Bone Health Beyond Calcium

In looking beyond calcium, there are other lesser-known nutrients important to maintaining bone health.

As we age, we lose bone.  Getting the proper nutrients for strong, healthy bones is critical.  Calcium is a crucial building block of bone tissue.  Vitamin D helps the body absorb and process calcium.  The two nutrients work together to maintain bone health and strength.  However, in looking beyond calcium, there are other lesser-known nutrients important to maintaining bone health. 

According to the Institute of Medicine, most adults require 1000 mg of calcium a day.  For post-menopausal women and men over the age of 70 that number increases to 1200 mg.  While there has been much emphasis on the benefits of calcium for bone health, there has been little attention paid to the other vitamins that are just as important in maintaining healthy bones.

  • Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin obtained from sun exposure, food and supplements.  Researchers believe that most Americans fall short on vitamin D.  In many parts of the country, especially during the winter months, the sun is too weak to generate vitamin D.  Older people especially are at high-risk of vitamin D deficiency as our bodies become less efficient at producing it as we age.
  • Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important to building strong, healthy bones. Both osteoblasts (bone building cells) and osteoclasts (bone breaking down cells) are influenced by vitamin A.  However, too much vitamin A can actually lead to lower bone density, so it’s definitely a balancing act. One source of vitamin A is retinol, found in meat and fish, fortified breakfast cereals, and vitamin supplements. Another source of vitamin A is beta-carotene, found in dark green and orange fruits and vegetables. 
  • Vitamin B12 also appears to have an effect on bone building cells.  A March 2005 Tufts University study showed that low levels of vitamin B12 are linked to a higher risk of osteoporosis in both men and women. Vitamin B12 is found in meat and fish, making vegans, who don’t eat meat or dairy, at increased risk for bone loss.
  • Vitamin C is important for healthy gums and healthy bones. Vitamin C is essential to the formation of collagen; the foundation that bone mineralization is built on. Studies have associated increased vitamin C levels with greater bone density. Vitamin C is water-soluble and the most common reason for low levels is poor intake.
  • Vitamin K is important to normal bone growth and development. This vitamin helps attract calcium to the bone.  Low blood levels of vitamin K are associated with lower bone density and possibly increased fracture risk. Thankfully, vitamin K deficiency is uncommon in healthy adults probably because it is found in many of the foods that we eat every day.

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