If I ask you which nutrient you need for strong bones, my guess is you’ll say, “CALCIUM!” Well, you aren’t wrong, but it’s not the complete picture. There are an array of nutrients needed to improve your bone health, but all we think about is calcium. I think that’s because of the advertisement that went on for years about “milk makes strong bones.”
I want to dive more into the complete picture of bone health + nutrition and the dangers of taking in excess calcium (especially through supplementation) + food sources where you can get calcium if you can’t do dairy (many people CAN’T do dairy)!
Nutrients Needed For Strong Bones
- Calcium – This one is a no-brainer. I know that “calcium is good for your bones” has been drilled into our heads since we were in elementary school! The parathyroid hormone stimulates the release of calcium from bones if blood calcium gets too low, but it also works with vitamin D to absorb calcium. Remember: Only 1% of our calcium is in our blood, the other 99% is in our bones! Not only does calcium help form bones, it has tons of various jobs in the body with the neurotransmitters + muscle contraction.
- Phosphorus– This mineral is needed for calcium absorption. I like to think of phosphorus as calcium’s partner in crime! It’s also needed for bone formation and maintenance, as well as muscle contractions + nerve conductions (sounds like calcium, right?) The parathyroid hormone also regulates the metabolism of phosphorus, like it does with calcium. Phosphorus and calcium need a ratio of 1:1. It’s super easy to get phosphorus in our diet, and you’ll find the food sources below. In our society we can easily have excess phosphorus, which leads to the calcium leaching out of our bones to pair with the extra phosphorus.
- Vitamin D3– This vitamin is needed for our body to actually absorb the calcium we intake. It also maintains the blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D is a common nutrient deficiency because our best source of it, the sunlight, we don’t get enough of. I can’t speak for everyone, but the majority of us are inside most of the day and when we do get outside, we slap on sunscreen RIGHT AWAY blocking our ability to synthesize vitamin D from the sun.
- Magnesium– This mineral is also needed for the body to absorb calcium. It helps take the calcium and bind it to the bone. 50-60% of our magnesium is in our bones. When we are deficient in magnesium, it also decreases osteoblasts (cells in charge of mineralization and formation of bones) and increases osteoclasts (cell that breaks down bone). Low magnesium also inhibits the parathyroid hormone secretions, which affects the homeostasis of calcium + bone health. If the parathyroid hormone is affected, it also affects vitamin D levels, which we talked about how important vitamin D is to calcium and bone health.
- Vitamin K2– This fat soluble vitamin is another vitamin that helps bind calcium to bones and supports healthy strong bones. Without vitamin K2, calcium deposits can happen elsewhere in the body like the cardiovascular system and increasing the risk of heart disease (we will get to this in a second!). Vitamin K is also needed for the conversion of osteocalcin (protein that regulates calcium in bone mineralization).
- Collagen – Osteoblasts bring in collagen to cross link in the bone to build a strong structure and mineralize it to create osteocytes (bone cells). The majority of your bone matrix is made from collagen.
Best Food Sources
Before supplementation, you guys know I want you to try and get it from food sources as much as possible! Here are some of the richest sources of these nutrients (not in order)…
Calcium – Salmon, Sardines, Collard Greens, Grass-Fed Dairy, Backstrap Molasses, Bok Choy, Kale
Phosphorus – Beef, Chicken, Nuts, Eggs, Dairy, Legumes/Lentils, Grains
Vitamin D – Salmon, Cod Liver Oil, Tuna, Eggs, Sunlight****
Magnesium – Almonds, Sesame seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Spinach, Dark Chocolate, Swiss Chard, Avocado
Vitamin K2 – Eggs, Chicken, Grass-Fed Cheese, Grass-Fed Butter, Fermented Foods
Collagen – Bone Broth, Animal Meats + Seafood (This contains the amino acids for our bodies to naturally build our collagen), Crucferious Vegetables, Garlic + Onions (You want the sulfur as it helps with collagen formation).
Excess Calcium Through Supplementation
So, if you’re trying to keep healthy strong bones, don’t just take a calcium supplement. As you can see there are SO many nutrients and factors that we have to take into consideration for strong and healthy bones. Calcium is NOT the only thing we should focus on, we have to take a look at the big picture.
Too much calcium, especially in supplement form, can cause a huge burst of calcium in our blood and cause calcification in parts of our body like our blood vessels that we don’t want. This increases the risk of heart disease. Too much calcium can also increase the risk of kidney stones.
Have any questions? Comment below!