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The Bare-Bones Facts
We all know the importance of maintaining healthy bones throughout life. Fortunately, there are safe, effective, ways to support strong, dense bones, regardless of your age.
Bones aren’t static. They’re living, changing tissues that are constantly breaking down and rebuilding themselves. When you were younger, your body did this very efficiently. In fact, most women achieve peak bone density in their early 30s. But as you get older, especially after menopause, your body breaks down more bone than it rebuilds. That’s why it’s so important to take steps now to maintain strong, resilient bones throughout your life.
It’s never too late to start thinking about bone health. I have seen patients in their 70s and 80s strengthen their bones and build new bone with a good bone maintenance program.
Building Bones through Exercise
Bones change constantly in response to different forces. Stress or strain on bones stimulates osteoblasts (cells that build bone). The more your bones resist gravity, the stronger they become. Conversely, inactivity takes its toll.
Exercise can increase bone mass, regardless of age. Researcher Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., author of the book Strong Women Stay Young, found that women who lifted weights 40 minutes twice a week for one year felt 15 to 20 years younger. Instead of losing bone, they showed small but significant gains, and felt happier, more energetic, and more self-confident—and the weight training led to significant weight loss.
Put stress on your bones regularly. If you’ve been sedentary, start with ten minutes a day and work up to 30–45 minutes three to five times a week. Do weight-bearing aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling, tennis, skiing—anything that gets you moving. Making room in your life for exercise will benefit not just your bones, but also your body and outlook.
Exercise alone cannot maintain bone health. Nor will calcium alone. We all know calcium is extremely important for healthy bones—but it can be hard for your body to absorb. It needs to be combined with certain other nutrients to be effective.
Plus, calcium is just one of more than a dozen nutrients your bones need to stay flexible and strong. And it doesn’t address other key bone health factors—building collagen and the need to reduce bone breakdown.
Scientists have identified vitamins D and K and many essential minerals besides calcium that synergistically help maintain strong bones. Minerals support processes involved in building strong bone, including collagen synthesis, mineralization, and proper absorption of calcium and other minerals.
Calcium. Your bones and teeth contain about 99 percent of your body’s calcium. Many studies have supported the effectiveness of calcium in maintaining bone health. The typical postmenopausal woman consumes about 500 mg of calcium each day.
Daily Calcium Requirements
Teenagers: 1,300 mg per day
Women over 18 with healthy bones: 1,000 mg per day if still menstruating
Women taking estrogen: 1,200–1,500 mg per day
Postmenopausal women: 1,200-1,500 mg per day Women with bone loss: 1,500-2,000 mg per day
Note: Your body can absorb only about 500 mg of calcium at a time, so spread your daily supplement intake throughout the day. I recommend calcium supplements in the form of calcium carbonate or ascorbate. Calcium carbonate, unlike calcium citrate, also provides a good buffer for reducing over-acidity. Be sure to take calcium in a 2:1 ratio with magnesium.
Magnesium. Approximately 60 percent of your body’s magnesium is stored in your bones. Magnesium aids calcium absorption and supports bone density. I advise supplementing magnesium in a 1:2 ratio with calcium. I recommend 500–750 mg of magnesium daily.
Zinc promotes healthy bones and new bone growth. Sub-optimal zinc intake is so common that I advise 15–25 mg daily.
Folic acid helps properly process the amino acid metabolite homocysteine which is important for overall bone health and strength. I recommend 800 mcg daily.
Silica (silicon). The herb horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is rich in silica, a mineral that is necessary for forming collagen and connective tissue. Silicon can help support bone mass density and also help calcium absorption. Boron, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals facilitate silicon absorption. For optimal bone health, take 20–50 mg daily.
Boron is highly concentrated in bones and is necessary for calcium and magnesium metabolism and for utilization of other bone-building nutrients and hormones. I recommend 3–6 mg daily for optimal bone health.
These vitamins are critical for at least one aspect of bone building or maintenance; most are involved in several processes.
Vitamin B6 supports calcium absorption and helps maintain normal homocysteine levels. I recommend 50 – 100 mg daily.
Vitamin B12 helps maintain normal homocysteine levels and ultimately healthy bones. I recommend 100 – 500 mcg daily.
Vitamin K. High dietary intake of vitamin K has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of hip fracture. I recommend 40 mcg of vitamin K daily. Note: Do not take more than 150 mcg of vitamin K a day with meals; excess is not easily excreted. If you take Coumadin, do not take supplemental vitamin K, and consult your physician about safe intakes of dark green vegetables.
Vitamin D. You can take all the calcium in the world, but without sufficient vitamin D, you won’t absorb it. One way to get vitamin D is from sunlight. Sunlight on the skin stimulates the body to manufacture vitamin D. I recommend supplementing with 800 IU per day.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) helps keep bones strong. This amazing nutrient is necessary for the formation of collagen in connective tissue and for stimulating cells that build bone. I recommend 1,000–3,000 mg of vitamin C daily for all women, preferably in the more alkaline mineral-buffered form. It should be taken in divided doses during the day.
Other Key Nutrients
Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) is a food-based fiber that supports optimum calcium and magnesium absorption in your gut and intestines. I recommend 1,000 mg twice daily with your other bone-supporting nutrients.
Rehmannia glutinosa extract. This herb has been used in Eastern Asia for more than 2,000 years as a “yinizing agent” that supports the optimal balance between kidney and bone health. I recommend 400 mg daily
Chondroitin sulfate is one of the essential components of collagen. It is also a major component of cartilage and helps support joint function. Take 200 mg of chondroitin sulfate, twice daily with food. To also help support the joints that cradle the bone, take 600 mg glucosamine sulfate, twice daily with a meal, in addition to your daily multi.
To learn more about Dr. Lark’s top recommendation for bone health, click here.
Maintaining healthy bone density is a lifelong program, influenced by such factors as good nutrition, weight-bearing exercise, and proper hormone secretion. If your body doesn’t get enough exercise or the appropriate combination of nutrients, it cannot properly build and maintain healthy bones.
Our understanding of bone is constantly changing and growing, like bone itself. I share the latest news on bone health (and other important health topics for women) with subscribers of my monthly newsletter, Women’s Wellness Today. For my complete Bone Health Program, including essential diet and hormone recommendations for bones, read my special report, The 21-Day Bone Miracle, which you’ll have immediate access to when you subscribe online. Click here to learn more.