What Nutrients Do Your Bones Really Need?

08/26/2020 | 8 min. read

Dr. David Williams

Dr. David Williams

Joint problems are usually obvious since they cause pain, stiffness, and other unpleasant symptoms. Bone problems, however, aren’t as apparent. Most people only realize they have weak bones after a fall or some other seemingly minor event results in a fracture.

These fractures are often directly related to osteoporosis, the thinning and weakening of bone structure. Osteoporosis greatly increases risk of life-altering fractures.

Although they are different in many respects, joint and bone deterioration have several things in common:

  • Both tend to occur gradually over a longer period of time.
  • Symptoms of each don’t manifest until significant damage has occurred.
  • Both can be related to excess weight and lack of proper exercise and movement.

The strength and health of bones and joints require adequate amounts of specific nutrients. Nutrients for joints include things like hyaluronic acid, collagen, and sulfur. Your bones, on the other hand, need a vast array of vitamins and minerals, listed below.

Nutrients for Bone Health

Calcium

Up to 99% of the body’s calcium can be found in bones and teeth, making it the top mineral necessary for strong bones. Several factors can influence the ability to absorb and/or utilize calcium. Make sure you address these issues appropriately:

  • Eating disorders
  • Digestive conditions (a lack of enzymes or digestive acid production)
  • Certain medications (corticosteroids, acid suppressors, anti-seizure drugs, aromatase inhibitors, and antidepressants)
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Hyperthyroidism

The daily calcium recommendation is 1,000–1,200 mg. Keep in mind, for the body to properly absorb and utilize calcium, it requires adequate amounts of magnesium, vitamins D and K, and other nutrients mentioned below.

Dietary sources of calcium include:

  • Dairy
  • Sardines and canned salmon (their edible bones are calcium rich)
  • Beans and lentils
  • Tofu
  • Whey protein
  • Almonds
  • Leafy greens like kale and collard greens

Magnesium

Magnesium is a co-factor in over 300 metabolic processes. As mentioned aboove, without sufficient levels of magnesium, proper absorption and utilization of calcium doesn’t occur. The daily recommended dosage is 350–450 mg.

Dietary sources include:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Leafy greens like spinach
  • Legumes
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains

Boron

Boron for bones is often overlooked. Boron is a protective antioxidant that reduces the excretion of calcium and magnesium. It is also involved in the process of converting vitamin D into its more active form.

It doesn’t take a lot of boron for bones to stay strong and healthy—3 mg a day. However, most people only get around 1 mg.

Dietary sources include:

  • Nuts (almonds)
  • Fruits (apples, bananas, pears, peaches, raisins, and tomatoes)
  • Avocados
  • Vegetables (broccoli and celery)
  • Grape and prune juice
  • Legumes

Copper

Copper is essential for the formation of collagen, which is a component of bone and connective tissue. A daily intake of 3 mg is recommended, yet most people get 1 mg or less of this important trace mineral.

Dietary sources include:

  • Avocados
  • Chickpeas
  • Nuts
  • Mushrooms
  • Beef liver
  • Oysters
  • Wheat bran
  • Tofu

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is one of the major structural components of bone and teeth. Roughly 85% of all the body’s phosphorus is in bones. It also helps to maintain the acid/alkaline balance in the body.

The recommended daily intake for adults is around 700 mg. Since phosphorus is present in so many foods, true deficiencies are relatively rare—except in the elderly, who tend to have poor nutritional intake and often use medications that hinder phosphorus absorption.

Dietary sources include:

  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Fish, meat, and poultry
  • Legumes
  • Brazil nuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Vegetables (potatoes and asparagus)

Potassium

Potassium compounds or potassium salts occur naturally in many vegetables, fruits, seeds, and spices. In the body, these compounds are metabolized into potassium bicarbonate, which the body uses to neutralize bone-depleting metabolic acids. This prevents the body from having to leech calcium from the bones to neutralize acids. That’s why eating a lot of fruits and vegetables is directly related to higher bone density and less calcium loss.

The daily recommendation for potassium is about 4,700 mg, though most women get around 2,200 mg and men 3,200 mg. Diuretics (water pills) can flush potassium out of the system, making supplementation even more important. Other drugs that affect potassium include albuterol, insulin, Sudafed, laxatives, and some antipsychotics.

Dietary sources include:

  • Avocados
  • Fruits (bananas, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, and tomatoes)
  • Vegetables (spinach and broccoli)
  • Beans and lentils
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Nuts

Zinc

Zinc is important for bone health by stimulating osteoblasts (bone-building cells) and inhibiting osteoclasts (cells that break down bone). It is also part of the complex that makes up the hydroxyapatite crystals that form the bone matrix. In addition, zinc plays a huge role in the immune response.

Roughly 75% of the 60+ population doesn’t get the daily recommended dose of zinc. Much like calcium, zinc requires adequate stomach acid and enzymes to be properly absorbed. And many individuals in this age group have digestive issues that hinder zinc absorption.

The daily recommended dose is 10 mg—but I recommend a slightly higher 15–20 mg.

Dietary sources include:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Poultry
  • Red meat
  • Seafood
  • Whole grains

Role of Vitamin K and D for Bone Health

Necessary vitamins for bones include A, B-complex, C, D, E, and K. But while all are important, recent studies have shown just how critical a role vitamins D and K play in bone health. Unfortunately, deficiencies of both are fairly common.

Vitamin D is produced by the body when it is exposed to sunlight. But most people these days avoid the sun, increasing risk of deficiency. Make it a point to get outside regularly without sunscreen. There’s no need to overdo it. Once your skin starts burning, vitamin D production stops anyway. Twenty minutes a day is all fair-skinned people need. If your skin is darker, you need a bit more.

As for vitamin K, the richest food sources are greens like kale, spinach, endive, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, and cabbage—not necessarily the most popular foods, which could explain why deficiency is common. Another great source is the fermented Japanese dish natto—a 3.5-ounce serving contains 1,000 mcg of K. Other sources include egg yolks, butter, fatty goose, whole milk, chicken, and beef.

Importantly, polyunsaturated fatty acids decrease the absorption of vitamin K. So if you eat a spinach salad but use a dressing made from polyunsaturated oils, chances are you won't absorb much of the vitamin K.

Furthermore, sulfa medications and aspirin both destroy vitamin K. Keep this in mind if you're taking aspirin routinely.

Vitamins D and K are fat soluble. If you have difficulty digesting fats or have had your gallbladder removed and aren’t taking bile salts with every meal, you won’t be able to digest either of these vitamins efficiently.

Supplementation is typically recommended: 4,000 IU vitamin D and 90–120 mcg vitamin K2 (the most biologically active form). You can also get your vitamin K with liquid chlorophyll—1 tablespoon daily.

Diet or Supplements?

Actually, you need both!

The best way to support your bones is to eat a variety of healthy whole foods (vegetables, fruits, meats, fats). The greater range of natural foods you enjoy, the more robust your skeletal system and overall health are.

Along with diet, you also should take a multivitamin formulated with natural (not synthetic) ingredients. I firmly believe that some of the best multis also incorporate a variety of plant and herbal powders. Ingredients like turmeric, ginseng, ginger, and spirulina contain a wide range of trace mineral complexes necessary for bone health.

Exercise Is Also Critical

Another important factor in bone health is exercise; specifically, progressive resistance exercise. In simple terms, you need to lift weights.

Your body constantly builds and rebuilds weight-bearing bones with internal scaffolding to support weight. The more weight you lift, the stronger your body will build your bones.

When stress is placed on your bones along their axis, the crushing of the bone molecules together creates something called piezoelectricity. This microcurrent electricity then stimulates the building of new bone. Your bones naturally adapt to the stresses that are put on them. Without these vibrations or electrical currents, bones begin to weaken. We’ve seen this happen in space flights. Astronauts quickly begin to lose bone mass since there’s no gravity to place stress on the bones.

Keep in mind, you don’t have to become a bodybuilder. The weights you use don’t have to be extremely heavy, but they do have to challenge you to a certain degree. If you’re new to lifting, start light and add more weight gradually. If it is in your budget, working with a trainer can help you achieve your goals while ensuring good, safe form.

What to Avoid

Along with making sure you get plenty of bone-building nutrients and weight-bearing exercise, there are certain things that damage bone and should be avoided.

Antacids (particularly those that contain aluminum) and proton pump inhibitors reduce calcium absorption and raise the risk of fractures by a shockingly high amount—even in young adults. Taking these drugs can increase fractures of the hip by as much as 44%.

Soda is also linked to a higher risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Soda contains phosphoric acid in the form of phosphate. While phosphate occurs naturally in some food, the type used in soft drinks is a synthetic version added to retard the growth of mold and bacteria and give drinks a sharper aftertaste. Higher phosphate in the blood creates overacidity, which the body neutralizes by leeching calcium from the bones. Your best bet is to avoid sodas like the plague.

Dr. David Williams

Meet Dr. David Williams

For more than 25 years, Dr. David Williams has traveled the world researching alternative therapies for our most common health problems—therapies that are inexpensive and easy to use, and therapies that treat the root cause of a problem rather than just its symptoms.

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