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Magazine Article

Wellness: Better Bones

September 6th, 2011

By Shana Hopkins, MS, CN, WAC Nutritionist


Most women approaching menopause are aware of the importance of dietary calcium for the maintenance of bone tissue. But what they may not know is that there are several other nutrients, besides just vitamin D, that are vital to creating and maintaining strong bones. Nutrients like magnesium, Vitamin K, and boron play essential roles, along with calcium and vitamin D, in bone health. Let’s take a closer look.

How much calcium?

Extensive research has shown that supplementing with calcium increases bone density. It is generally recommended that women age 50 and over supplement with additional calcium in order to achieve the 1,200 mg per day intake most researchers find optimal for preventing bone loss. Most individuals generally take in 500–700 mg per day through diet alone.

Calcium carbonate is probably the most common form of supplemental calcium because it is cheap, and you can get the most milligrams of calcium per capsule. However, calcium carbonate is poorly absorbed. Plus, giving large amounts of a single nutrient at one time does not ensure proper absorption.

Studies by some leading researchers have shown that calcium is best absorbed in smaller, divided doses. In fact, data show that as the quantity of the individual dose of calcium increases, the percentage of absorbed calcium goes down dramatically, regardless of the source. Also, as people age, they make less stomach acid and are therefore less able to break down calcium salts effectively in the digestive tract.

Some of the best absorption rates come from true amino acid chelates from Albion Laboratories, which has put a lot of time and research into creating highly absorbable minerals. The chelating process binds the calcium to an amino acid. The end result of the chelating process is a calcium protein molecule that (1) survives the acidity of the stomach, (2) has a small enough molecular weight to be absorbed through the intestines intact, and (3) has a neutral charge, so its absorption is not hindered at the entrance of the intestinal cell. All supplements offered through the Wellness Center contain Albion amino acid chelates for maximum absorption and utilization at the cell level.

Food First

Food is always the best way to get your vitamins and minerals, and, when it comes to calcium, dairy does pack a punch. My favorite dairy food is plain Greek-style yogurt; it provides 300 mg of calcium per cup as well as a nice portion of your daily protein need. If you require some sweetness, add fresh fruit or xylitol.

It’s equally important to look toward plant foods for your calcium needs. Sesame seeds are loaded with calcium; liberally sprinkle on salads or use tahini (sesame seed butter) on whole-wheat toast. Learn to cook with collard greens and kale, which pack a punch, as do broccoli and tofu.

Power pair: magnesium and vitamin D

Magnesium plays a huge role in forming strong bones. In a two-year study, supplementing with 250–750 mg of magnesium per day halted bone loss and in some cases increased bone mass in 87 percent of people with osteoporosis. Yet it is estimated that 70 percent of Americans fail to consume their daily recommended need of 350 mg. To top that off, a significant amount of calcium supplements that are targeted to prevent osteoporosis fail to include magnesium in the formula. Look for a formula with about two-parts calcium to one-part magnesium. Whole grains, nuts, seeds and leafy vegetables are high in magnesium.

Vitamin D, aka the sunshine vitamin, increases calcium absorption. A lot of press has been given to vitamin D in the past few years, and with good reason. We know vitamin D is critical in building and maintaining healthy bones. But it is also proving to be one of the body’s best defenses against various cancers, autoimmune diseases and declining physical performance as we age.

This hormone-like molecule is produced by sunlight hitting the skin. Many individuals are low in this nutrient, which is harder to get from the sun in northern latitudes, with use of sunscreen and indoor living. Supplementing with vitamin D is highly recommended. Although 600 IU is the daily recommended intake set by the Institute of Medicine, a lot of experts in the field suggest that 1000–2000 IU per day may be necessary to keep blood serum levels at an optimal range.

Ask your doctor for a vitamin D test on a yearly basis to monitor your levels, and optimize your intake. Milk is fortified with vitamin D, and egg yolks are a natural food source, as is cod liver oil.

Vitamin K connection

Although vitamin D has gotten all the attention lately, vitamin K is just as important to calcium metabolism. Unfortunately, individuals at risk for bone loss may not be getting enough vitamin K to optimize their bone strength. Vitamin K works through a molecule called Gla, or gamma-carboxyglutamic acid. Gla signals certain proteins to hold onto calcium and direct it to the right tissues in the body—the bones—and keeps calcium out of soft tissues, like your arteries.

Higher vitamin K intake has been correlated with greater bone density. It has been shown that women with osteoporosis have 25 percent of the vitamin K intake of their healthy counterparts. Vitamin K is found in dark leafy greens. Make sure your calcium supplement contains it.

Boron is a trace mineral that is required to convert vitamin D into its active form. It is found in fruits, vegetables and nuts. Manganese also aids in bone calcification, and it is found in whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin C assists in the formation of the bone protein; it is found in fruits and vegetables. Other nutrients important to bone formation include vitamin B6, folate, zinc, copper, potassium, phosphorus and silicon. A diet that emphasizes whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and leafy greens will help you to get these nutrients.

Last but certainly not least, weight-bearing exercise is essential to maintaining bone mass as one ages. It is vital to have a regular exercise program that includes resistance training.

Bone boosters

Through the WAC’s customized vitamin program, CustomVite, we can produce a formula for you that includes the best forms of the nutrients essential for preserving bone density, at the dosages that are most beneficial to you.

We also offer a bottled supplement, OsteoForce from Designs for Health, which is an excellent bone-building formula. Contact the nutrition office at 206.839.4782 for more information.

Bone density/osteoporosis screenings

Tests will be offered during the Health and Wellness Fair at the WAC. Receive a numerical density reading and printed computer image of the bone structure of your nondominant wrist, as well as counseling. If you have been tested at the WAC before, you can receive the comparative data from your previous test(s).

Wellness Fair at the WAC

Monday, October 24, 2011; 6:30 am–2 pm
and 4–6 pm; Noble Room, Lobby;
$55; 15 minutes. Reservations are recommended.