How many times have you heard calcium is a requirement for healthy bones? Absolutely correct. On the other hand, calcium is only one mineral that impacts the health of your bones. Research shows a number of nutrients work together to maintain bone density and lower the risk for osteoporosis. Think of them as the “support team” that helps calcium do its job better. Are you getting enough of these bone-friendly nutrients?
Is Protein important for bone health? Yes! A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition shows protein plays a role in keeping your bones healthy. At one time, a high-protein diet was believed to be detrimental to bone health because it increases calcium excretion. More recent research shows the increase in excretion of urinary calcium is offset by a rise in calcium absorption when you eat protein. Plus, diets higher in protein are linked with higher bone density and fewer bone fractures. Protein also increases the production of a factor that promotes bone growth. You already know getting enough protein is important for preserving muscle mass and preventing sarcopenia but it’s also vital for bone health, especially as you age.
How can you get the bone-building benefits of protein? Vary your protein sources by enjoying more plant-based proteins and balance it out with fruits and vegetables. Animal-based proteins are more acid forming, which can promote leeching of calcium from bone. You can offset this by eating more fruits and vegetables, which are alkaline.
Vitamin D improves calcium absorption from your digestive tract. It’s essentially the support system for calcium. It’s important to mention vitamin D because a significant portion of the population has low or borderline low vitamin D levels. If you have a normal vitamin D level, the majority of studies show taking a vitamin D supplement probably won’t improve your bone density. Vitamin D doesn’t seem to have an effect on bone density independent of its impact on calcium – but you do need ENOUGH vitamin D. Get a vitamin D level checked to make sure you’re in the normal range. If you’re too low, you may need a supplement but don’t take megadoses of vitamin D, believing it will improve the health of your bones. Recent research doesn’t support this.
Vitamin K2 is a vitamin you don’t hear a lot about. Preliminary research shows vitamin K2 is important for bone health. K2 “directs” calcium towards bones where it can be used to preserve bone density and away from the lining of arteries where it can contribute to plaque formation, a risk factor for heart disease. Therefore, vitamin K2 may be important for bone AND heart health. Vitamin K2 is even used as a treatment for osteoporosis in Japan.
Vitamin K2 is distinct from vitamin K1. Vitamin K1 is found mostly in fruits and vegetables and is mainly involved in blood clotting, whereas K2 is involved in calcium regulation. A small amount of vitamin K2 is produced from vitamin K1 by bacteria in your intestinal tract. In dietary form, vitamin K2 is found in relatively few foods and ones that most people don’t eat a lot of including fermented dairy products and fermented soy including natto, a Japanese form of fermented soy, and miso. Meat and egg yolks are other good sources of vitamin K2.
Whether taking a vitamin K2 supplement to help regulate calcium improves bone health is still unproven, although there is mounting evidence that vitamin K2 is important for healthy bones and, possibly, healthy arteries.
Recent research shows magnesium is important for bone health. Sixty-percent of the magnesium in your body is stored in your bones. This magnesium has a structural role and serves as a reserve source of magnesium your body can tap into when you don’t get enough magnesium in your diet. Animals that eat diets low in magnesium have bones that are weak, fragile and break easily. Low magnesium appears to block the growth of new bone by blocking the activity of bone-forming cells called osteoblasts. It also alters the activity of a gland called the parathyroid gland, a small gland in your neck that regulates calcium.
If you eat mostly processed foods, you may not be getting enough calcium for healthy bones. Good sources of magnesium include green vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes. Some medications, including diuretics, increase magnesium loss by increasing its excretion. Drinking large amounts of caffeinated beverages or alcohol does too. There’s another reason to get enough magnesium in your diet. Magnesium could offer some protection against “old age” diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, although more research is needed.
Zinc is another mineral involved in building healthy bones. Research shows it increases the activity of osteoblasts, cells that build new bone tissue. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed a link between low zinc levels and an increased risk of osteoporosis in women. You may need more zinc in your diet as you age, according to recent research. Older people have a harder time absorbing dietary zinc.
Zinc deficiency has been linked with immune problems including increased risk for infection as well as inflammation. Inflammation is an underlying factor in a number of health problems including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Best to get your zinc through diet since taking a zinc supplement can interfere with absorption of copper, a mineral you need in small amounts for healthy red blood cells.
What are the best dietary sources of zinc? Oysters are the single best source of zinc. If you don’t like oysters, poultry, red meat, seafood, nuts, legumes, nuts, and whole grains are good sources.
The Bottom Line?
You need calcium for healthy bones but calcium needs a little help from its “support team.” Make sure you’re getting enough of these five nutrients to optimize your bone density.
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