May is Osteoporosis Awareness Month. Though we tend to take our bones for granted, bone health is an intrinsic part of our overall well-being, especially for women. In fact, women are more susceptible to bone density loss than men due to lower levels of testosterone, a hormone that facilitates bone growth, among other important functions. According to recent estimates, 50% of women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis, the severe loss of bone density. There is also ongoing research on the extent to which bone health and bone density loss in women are explicitly related to menstruation and menopause. Though most people don’t experience osteoporosis symptoms until after the age of 50, younger people can still develop symptoms without proper nutrient intake. Oftentimes, we hear about how important calcium is to bone health. In truth, calcium is the most important mineral in fortifying bone structure, which of course is the inevitable topic of trendy milk commercials. But because our bodies are very interconnected, calcium isn’t the only key to bone development and strength. There are multiple nutrients that contribute to bone formation and stability. Here are five core nutrients beyond calcium that you should bear in mind for bone health:
Vitamin C plays two key roles in promoting bone health. First, it stimulates bone-forming cell production. Second, vitamin C’s antioxidant characteristics appear to protect bone cells from damage. The most effective vitamin C sources, at least from a bone health perspective, seem to be green and yellow vegetables. A recent study showed that women over 50 who consumed onions most frequently had a 20% lower risk of osteoporosis compared to women who rarely ate them. I’m personally not the biggest fan of onions, but a boost in bone density just might be worth the tears.
Vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin. It is a prohormone produced as our skin absorbs sunlight. Without adequate amounts of vitamin D, parathyroid hormone (PTH) increases, which in turn stimulates osteoclasts to release calcium back into the bloodstream. Taking vitamin D supplements plays an important role in receiving necessary levels, especially during winter months.
Magnesium facilitates a very crucial part of the calcium reabsorption process that often gets overlooked. Magnesium converts vitamin D from its latent form to its active form, enabling vitamin D to do its job, emphasizing how interwoven and amazing these processes are.
Vitamin K, along with being crucial to blood coagulation, particularly supports bone health by modifying a protein called osteocalcin. Vitamin K enables osteocalcin to bind minerals in bones, which helps with calcium retention, keeping your bones healthy and strong. Vitamin K can be found in foods like eggs, meat, cheese, sauerkraut and soybeans.
Collagen is the main protein found in bones. It contains the amino acids necessary to build and sustain bone, muscle, ligaments, and other connective tissues. Many medical professionals recommend taking a collagen supplement to this end.
So when you think of bone health this Osteoporosis Awareness Month, consider how complex bone development and fortification can be and how amazing our bodies are. Let’s be intentional about bone health in all the ways we can. Here are some more resources on osteoporosis treatment and bone health support: