Strong bones are the cornerstones for proper mobility. They provide the foundation for flexibility movement, and they aid in various other intercellular processes.
Bones fall into two categories:
Compact bones are primarily composed of rigid, ossified bone cells and they make up 80% of the skeleton.
Trabecular bones make up 20% and these bones house and create the elements that are essential to our overall health. These include, but are not limited to metabolism, immunity and new cell creation (1).
As athletes, we should keep in mind that any stress we endure in our daily lives or during training is ultimately supported by our bones and that they should be diligently cared for. Can bone supplements help? What types of supplements are essential, and what can’t be adequately received from diet?
Supplements for Strong Bones
The supplements crucial for bone health include the trio of calcium, vitamin D3 and magnesium. Also important: phosphorus, vitamin K2, and trace minerals (2).
Calcium (1000- 1500 mg)
Calcium is an essential element for all living organisms because of the scores of processes it’s involved in. It plays a critical role in the health status of compact bones and many cell tasks. An extremely important 1% of all the calcium in our bodies is used for these ongoing cellular functions including muscle contractions, blood clotting and neurotransmitter releases. The other 99% is stored in our bones and teeth and it’s released from there.
A continual cycle exists:
1. Calcium is taken into our bodies and it’s processed in our intestines.
2. It’s transported to our bones for storage.
3. Our bones release it when necessary and as pointed out before — that’s basically all of the time.
The cells that mineralize and re-mineralize our bones begin to taper off in our mid twenties and ultimately stop around age 30. The most efficient way to build bone mineral density is to essentially force it. When an area of the body undergoes a high impact stress experience (namely exercise), the body responds by sending calcium to repair the space. Calcium is used to increase bone mineral density when stress has been placed on an area of the body (3). The more compacted the space is with healthy bone cells, the stronger the bone. Ongoing calcium deficiencies, especially as age increases, can lead to injury and degenerations such as osteoporosis (4). Vitamin A imbalance can also affect calcium (5).
Everyday our bodies (ages 19-50) require roughly 1,000mg. Food is the most beneficial way to get absorbable calcium. Sources include grassfed dairy and leafy green vegetables. But where food falls short, supplements help. Take it 2x a day since our bodies can only absorb about 600 mg at a time.
Vitamin D3 (15 mcg or 600-800 units/ per dose of calcium)
Vitamin D (specifically D3) is only recently starting to get the recognition it deserves. It’s the main component that aids in the synthesis of proteins necessary for calcium absorption and is directly related to positive bone building. Calcium is absorbed through the intestines, and vitamin D3 is what enables this process to occur. Often you’ll see vitamin D3 coupled into calcium supplements. It’s for this reason. After vitamin D enters your body, through your skin or a supplement, it’s converted into 25 (OH)D, and then it’s considered “activated.” From here, it fulfills its role as an aid in calcium absorption.
Typically, vitamin D is hard to get from food since few foods contain the necessary amounts. The next two options are sun exposure and supplements. Vitamin D is interesting in the fact that your body is able to synthesize it from sunlight — a trait that’s not seen with other vitamins. Most people love a tan, myself included.
It’s suggested that roughly 20 minutes of sun exposure will give your body the adequate supply it needs, but it’s crucial to take this advice with a grain of salt. The amount of sun exposure that an individual can withstand from short term and long term sun exposure is hard — if not impossible — to correctly determine. You must consider the UVA/UBA strength of the sun where you are, the time of year, latitude, your family history and your ethnicity. Over exposure can lead to wrinkles, premature aging, and of course, different types of skin cancer.
On this one, it’s just easier to just play it safe (3). Take a supplement and practice safe sun exposure to get the best of both worlds.
Just a little FYI: The difference between vitamin d2 and d3 basically comes down to the fact that vitamin d2 can be toxic in large quantities and it’s not easily synthesized for supplement form. D3 is a result of the vitamin d we know — synthesized from the sun. It’s the one we need (6).
Magnesium (300- 400 mg)
Magnesium is essential for bone health because as stated earlier, calcium needs vitamin D in order to be absorbed. We can continue this by adding in that vitamin D needs magnesium in order to properly be metabolized for bone health. It’s a necessary vitamin for this and many other reasons. The necessary protein from vitamin D3 is activated and maintained by magnesium. Together, the three of them are very much dependent on one another for proper function. It’s the last in a trio of beneficial vitamins (4).
Furthermore, it’s been suggested that there is a direct link between magnesium deficiency and osteoporosis. Research has been done in recent years that shows osteoporosis can be a direct result of calcium that hasn’t been metabolized by the body due to a lack of magnesium. Additionally, magnesium has been shown to increase bone mineral density which, as we already know, is the key to building stronger bones.
Interestingly enough, magnesium deficiencies can also be associated with chocolate cravings since chocolate is high in the mineral. Leafy green vegetables can also be somewhat high (depending on the variety of vegetable and the amount), but in this case, it’s easier to take a supplement. The amount should be roughly half the amount of calcium per day. This means around 500-600 mg of magnesium.
Phosphorus (700 mg)
Phosphorus is a mineral whose relation to calcium and bone health is only now being realized. It’s the second most abundant mineral in the body, with calcium being the first, and it aids in bone health by helping the body to absorb calcium. It also helps to balance vitamin D. It’s the second in a very essential bone health trio.
We get much of our required recommended daily value (700 mg) from foods such as fish, nuts, beef and pork, but certain conditions such as celiac disease can interfere with its absorption (8). It’s important to check with your physician if you feel you might have a deficiency. Otherwise, this one is great to taste your way through.
Vitamin K2 (roughly 180- 200 mcg)
Vitamin K2 can be looked at as another vitamin that helps calcium to be absorbed by our bones. It’s created in our gut as a by-product of bacteria. Recent research has suggested that when calcium is absorbed it can potentially be deposited into your arteries and tissue, which isn’t a good thing.
Here, vitamin K2 steps in to help keep those deposits safely inside of your bones by activating a protein hormone called osteocalcin (9). Very few foods have adequate amounts. It can be found in ghee, as well as a Japanese fermented soy product called natto. The amounts are tough to get from food (roughly 200 mcg), so it’s best to take a supplement.
Not as important as the above mentioned supplements, but extremely beneficial are trace minerals. These include boron, copper, zinc and silicon. Bone growth and formation is supported through deposits of these minerals. For example, silica acts similarly to gelatin in that it helps to give structure during bone density growth. Others, such as strontium, help specific vitamins to perform their functions well (10). FDA guidelines haven’t been set on what amounts we need from most of them, but it is known that they’re much smaller amounts, hence the word “trace.”
As athletes, we know that’s important to always keep pushing ourselves but to also supply our bodies with the necessary nutrition. Not only do our bones provide mobility and support for our tissues and organs, they also perform functions that are indispensable to our overall health and well-being. It’s impossible to practice proper form without remembering that the progression and perfection of the movements we carry out rely on the health of our bones. Supplements are a great way to take over when food falls short.
Together calcium, vitamin D3 and magnesium begin the circuit of what it means to foster healthy bones. By incorporating supplements into our daily regimens, we can look forward to continually exercising and growing our healthy bones into even stronger ones.
- http://droualb.faculty.mjc.edu/Course%20Materials/Elementary%20Anatomy%20and%20Physiology%2050/Lecture%20outlines/skeletal%20system%20I%20with%20figures.htm June 2009: Elementary Anatomy and Physiology: Skeletal System.
- http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000490.htm May 2015: U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus: Calcium, Vitamin D, and your bones.
- http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/two-keys-to-strong-bones-calcium-and-vitamin-d Nov 2013: Harvard Medical School: Two keys to strong bones: calcium and Vitamin D.
- http://www.crnusa.org/CRNfoundation/HCCS/chapters/07-CRNFSHCCS-Osteoporosis-wCalcium+VitaminDandMagnesium.pdf Jan 2013: Osteoporosis with calcium, Vitamin D and magnesium.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11585356 Oct 2001: U.S. National Library of Medicine, PubMed: Vit A antagonizes calcium response to Vit D in man.
- http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/difference-between-vitamin-d-vitamin-d3-7149.html July 2015: SF Gate: The Difference between D and D3.
- http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/magnesium June 2013: University of Maryland: Health Center: Magnesium.
- http://www.phosphatesfacts.org/pdfs/PhosphorusEssential.pdf July 2015: Phosphates.org: Phosphorus: Essential to Bone Health.
- http://www.lifeextension.com/Magazine/2008/3/Protecting-Bone-And-Arterial-Health-With-Vitamin-K2/Page-01 May 2008: Life Extension: Protecting Bone and Arterial Health with Vitamin K2.
- http://www.betterbones.com/bonenutrition/20keybonenutrients.pdf July 2015: Better Bones: 20 Key Bone Nutrients.