Most people don't pay their bone health much mind until something happens, like a broken bone or a test showing bone density issues. However, they perform many beneficial jobs, not just holding us up. So let’s give them the nourishment they deserve.
According to the NIH, bone is “Made mostly of collagen, bone is living, growing tissue. Collagen is a protein that provides a soft framework, and calcium phosphate is a mineral that adds strength and hardens the framework. This combination of collagen and calcium makes bone strong and flexible enough to withstand stress. More than 99 percent of the body's calcium is contained in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1 percent is found in the blood.”
Many people are unaware of just how many vital functions our bones perform. These are just a few of them;
Bone marrow makes red and white blood cells, as well as platelets.
They store minerals and fatty acids.
Bones help to maintain a steady blood pH.
Bones release hormones acting on the kidneys, influencing blood sugar regulation and fat deposition.
Bones maintain calcium balance.
Bones are composed of two main parts. The first is the compact (cortical) bone, the hard outer layer that is dense and durable. It makes up about eighty percent of adult bone mass. The second part is the cancellous (trabecular or spongy) bone. It consists of a network of trabeculae or rod-like structures. It is lighter, less dense, and more flexible than compact bone.
Your bones have some pretty incredible things in them.
Osteoblasts and osteocytes are responsible for creating bone
Osteoclasts, bone-resorbing cells
Osteoid is a mix of collagen and other proteins
Inorganic mineral salts within the matrix
Nerves and blood vessels
Membranes, including the endosteum periosteum
Osteopenia and osteoporosis are the most commonly known health conditions that affect bones. Osteopenia is when your bones are weaker than average but not so far gone that they break easily. Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens the bones to the point where they fracture or break easily.
As osteoporosis gets worse, bones get thinner and more porous.
So what are some factors that contribute to these conditions? While there are others, these are the main factors:
Lack of dietary calcium.
The long-term use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids
Never stop or change your medication dosage without speaking with your doctor first.
Lack of Vitamin D.
a Sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise
Decrease in hormone production.
We will release an article about hormones that explains their role in bone health (and much more) shortly. Addressing the hormonal portion of bone health is essential to ensuring healthy bone density and flexibility. However, it is far too big of a topic to combine into this article. If you urgently need information on this topic for your bones, feel free to email us at email@example.com, and we will get that information over to you.
Excessive alcohol consumption.
Improving as many of those as possible will help not only your bones but your overall health as well!
First up on your nourishing bones journey is exercise. Weight-bearing exercises are a great way to support healthy bone density. Osteoporosis Canada has some excellent guides to exercising for healthy bones; click the button below to download them.
If you're worried about your bone health, don't skimp on the proper bone-building exercises.
A strong bone is a happy bone!
Your bones need a variety of nutrients to be at their best.
First up is vitamin D. It helps the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus (which is incredibly important for bone health but rarely talked about.). Children who do not get enough vitamin D can develop a painful condition called rickets.
There are several different types of vitamin D, but the two most common forms are D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). D2 is the form found in plant foods such as mushrooms and has a shorter half-life in the body than d3. D3 is the form found in animal foods and the kind your body makes from sunlight. Vitamin D3 appears to be more effective at raising vitamin D levels in the body than vitamin D2.
The best source of vitamin D3 is the sun. Your body produces vitamin D3 from sunlight. UVB radiation from the sun triggers the formation of d3 from a compound in the skin called 7-dehydrocholesterol. Remember that your body will not produce as much in northern elevations or if you are wearing sunscreen. If you want to manage your sun time to help your body get enough vitamin D without sunburn, there are some great phone apps.
While it is not known what the exact blood levels of vitamin D should be (I am going to be referring to nanograms to milliliters here), it is generally accepted that 30-60 is a good range. Your doctor can test your vitamin D levels and help you determine what a good number is for you. There is also an at-home test you can do. However, you can get too much vitamin D, leading to health issues such as hypercalcemia and kidney calcium stones. So don’t overdo it.
Several foods have vitamin D3 in them. Wild-caught fatty fish like salmon with skin (tuna, sardines, herring, and mackerel) and tinned wild-caught cod livers are rich in vitamin D. Other great sources are egg yolks and wild salmon roe.
Since many people do not consume enough vitamin D rich foods or get enough from the sun, vitamin D supplements have become very popular.
Our favorite vitamin D supplement is unrefined cod liver oil. It differs significantly from heavily refined cod liver oils with synthetic vitamin D added because the natural vitamins are stripped out during the refining process. Besides the sun and vitamin D-rich foods, this is the best way to get your vitamin D. It is the perfect way to ensure your body is getting this vital nutrient in its most bioavailable form. In addition, unrefined cod liver supplies vitamin A (retinol) and omega-three fatty acids in their natural forms, which have a synergistic effect with vitamin D that you will not get from traditional vitamin D supplements. Remember, in nature, no nutrient exists on its own. We should strive to get our nutrition the way that is best, from nutrient-rich whole foods. For those who want plain vitamin D, this is our recommended supplement.
Next up is vitamin K. It is an essential vitamin for bone health, taking part in the carboxylation of many bone-related proteins, regulating genetic transcription of osteoblastic markers, and regulating bone reabsorption.
Vitamin K comes in multiple forms. There are three main ones. K1 is found in plant foods, such as leafy green vegetables. K2 (MK-7) is found in fermented foods such as tempeh and natto. K2 (MK-4) is found in animal products such as grass-fed butter and ghee, wild-caught fish eggs, organ meats, bone marrow, grass-fed tallow, grass-fed raw hard cheeses, and egg yolks.
If you are taking blood-thinning medication, talk to your doctor before increasing the amount of vitamin K in your diet or taking a supplement.
Certain medications, such as cholesterol (statins and bile acid sequestrants) and lubricant laxatives, can cause lower levels of vitamin K, so make sure to eat some extra vitamin K rich foods if you are taking those.
When choosing a good vitamin K supplement, it’s important to focus on those that push the most to the tissues and bones instead of the mistaken focus on blood levels. Lots of forms of nutrients can increase blood levels, but that does not mean that it has the most beneficial effects. MK-4 concentrates in tissues and organs, so it does not show up as much in blood tests as it is quickly moved and utilized by the body. Research claiming that MK-7 is superior because of higher blood levels is focused on the wrong thing. Instead, the focus should be on health outcomes, such as reduced fracture risk and improved bone density. MK-4 (at a dosage of 45 mg per day) is used as a prescription in Japan for the treatment of osteoporosis. Multiple human clinical trials, at 45 milligrams per day, have shown support for healthy bones. So our recommendation is to choose the type of vitamin K2 with proven health benefits, and that is MK-4. Unrefined emu oil is far and away our top choice for a whole-food vitamin K (MK-4) supplement. Just as unrefined cod liver oil has synergistic compounds that go great with vitamin D, unrefined emu oil has compounds that support the body's use of vitamin K. This is our recommended supplement for those who want just plain K2 (MK-4).
The angriest birds in the world make the best vitamin K.
Magnesium is our next crucial bone support nutrient. Magnesium deficiency contributes to osteoporosis directly by acting on crystal formation and on bone cells and indirectly by impacting on the secretion and the activity of parathyroid hormone and by promoting low grade inflammation.
Foods rich in magnesium include:
Good mineral water, such as Gerolsteiner.
Make sure your cacao is low in heavy metals (lead, cadmium, arsenic, etc.), as many are very high in heavy metals.
Blood tests for magnesium are not a reliable way to judge magnesium levels in the body. Many people have normal blood levels of magnesium but low tissue levels. Getting enough magnesium in the diet can be challenging, and approximately fifty percent of people do not meet the recommended daily allowance of magnesium.
If you cannot eat enough magnesium-rich foods, then it may be time to consider a magnesium supplement. There are many types of magnesium supplements.
Magnesium oxide and citrate
These are good for use as laxatives, but their low absorption makes them a poor choice for bone health.
Good choices for bone health.
This is our favorite magnesium choice for bone health. It also contains lots of polyphenols and potassium, which are great for bones. In addition, it is very low in heavy metals.
The next time some jerk says you eat too much chocolate, tell them it's for your bones, scratch that, just tell them to go to hell.
Silica plays an important role in bone health. It helps to support the production of collagen fibers, bone strength, and bone structure.
Foods rich in silica include:
Good mineral water, such as Gerolsteiner.
Cucumbers and pickles with the skin (the skin is where all the silica is)
Boron provides a number of bone benefits. It was determined to induce mineralization of osteoblasts by regulating the expression of genes related to tissue mineralization and the actions of key hormones (17β-estradiol [E2], testosterone, and vitamin D) involved in bone growth and turnover.
Foods rich in boron include:
While not well known, manganese plays an important role in bone health. It helps to support bone density and strength.
Foods rich in manganese include:
Copper is another essential mineral for bone health. It helps with the formation of collagen, an important part of the structure of a bone.
Foods rich in copper include:
Grass-fed beef liver
Foods rich in zinc include:
Grass-fed milk and cheese
Zinc supplements can be very hard on the stomach. If you need a zinc supplement, a true whole food one can make taking zinc a breeze, with no more nausea and upset stomach.
Foods rich in vitamin C include:
Red bell peppers
Just eat lots of fruit, you got this.
The Vitamin C Gang
Foods rich in potassium include:
Grass-fed Milk and Yogurt
Phosphorus is essential for healthy bones, yet it rarely gets talked about, which is terrible because of its importance.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “phosphorus is as important as calcium in supporting bone augmentation and maintenance.” Calcium must be bound to phosphorus to be properly absorbed and utilized by the body for bone building. Most calcium supplements, such as carbonate, and citrate forms, lack this essential calcium cofactor.
Foods rich in bioavailable phosphorus include:
Some foods, such as nuts, contain phosphorus; however, the bioavailability is very poor because of nutrient inhibitors, such as high levels of phytic acid, so they are not a good source of this essential mineral.
Finally, we arrive at calcium - the big name in bone health. We could probably write a whole article just about it.
Calcium keeps your bones dense and strong, but it can only do that if you get enough of all the other nutritional pieces mentioned above. Rather than get too deep into the science here, we will be giving you the basics. We did not want to add another ten pages to this article. If you are interested in the long-form, full-on calcium experience, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be happy to provide you with lots and lots of information about it along with references and studies.
You often see articles about calcium, heart attacks, or cardiovascular issues. Without getting too into the weeds about it, this risk comes entirely from crappy calcium supplements (carbonate, citrate, etc., and foods fortified with calcium (beverages like almond, oat, and nut “milk", orange juice fortified with calcium, etc.). When you ingest lots of calcium made from chalk, ground-up rocks, etc., it creates a rapid spike in blood calcium, which triggers the body to get rid of it quickly because blood calcium is carefully regulated. Then this calcium gets deposited into arteries, soft tissues, and other places it does not belong. So to avoid the vast majority of calcium's dangerous side, you just need to not eat foods with ground-up rocks added or take certain calcium supplements containing forms of calcium that cause a rapid spike in blood levels, such as carbonate and citrate.
These are not good sources of calcium. Yet, many people drink milk alternatives (almond, oat, etc.) loaded with these and take calcium pills from them. Just say no to foods and supplements filled with ground-up rocks and chalk.
Foods rich in calcium include:
Grass-fed dairy products
Canned wild salmon with the bones
Also rich in vitamin D
Whole canned wild sardines with the bones
Cooked leafy greens such as kale, collards, and mustard greens
These are very low in phosphorus, so eating them with some foods rich in phosphorus is best to get the most benefit.
When choosing a good calcium supplement, it's crucial to select those:
That contain 100% whole foods.
Those foods are traceable to their farms to ensure they are ethically produced and manufactured.
That is manufactured and produced in a way that preserves all of the important proteins and cofactors found in the foods. Even if you have the best food source in the world, lousy processing and manufacturing methods will destroy any benefits.
That contains the calcium naturally bonded with phosphorus, as it occurs in the whole food, and has adequate amounts of phosphorus for the calcium to be utilized appropriately.
That contains adequate amounts of calcium.
That does not cause a rapid spike in blood calcium.
That is free of ground-up rocks and shells.
That is free of heavy metal contamination.
That contains the form of calcium that is identical to what makes up our bones.
That do not contain forms of calcium that require high levels of stomach acid to be absorbed, while they lower stomach acid.
That has research to support its effectiveness in supporting healthy bones.
While it was not easy to find calcium supplements that met those criteria, we did manage to find a few that did. They are 100% whole food and come directly from regenerative family farms in the Lake Eyre Region of Australia. You can view them here and here.
We get asked about strontium a lot, and our answer is always, “Just say no!” The small amounts naturally occurring in food are completely safe and very different from the large amounts sold as supplements.
Strontium has been the subject of a great marketing campaign. However, marketing should not be what decides whether something is safe or effective.
This is dangerous because bones perform many vital jobs in the body, and replacing significant amounts of calcium with strontium may affect the ability of bones to function correctly.
This effect actually tricks bone density tests such as a DEXA scan, leading to bone density scores higher than what they actually are. When bone density tests are adjusted to account for the intake of strontium, there is no improvement in bone density. These false results can remain for up to ten years after stopping the strontium.
Strontium is not your friend.
Hopefully, this article answered all of your bone health questions. If we missed any, feel free to email us at email@example.com, and we will do our best to get you the answers you need! If you need more guidance or in-depth support with your bones, you can always get help with a free guided health journey.
Nourish your bones well so they can do the happy dance!