10 Nutrients You Need for Healthy Bones

It’s easy to think of your skeleton as a permanent structure, hard and unchanging. But the truth is that your bones are dynamic, living tissue. Just like your softer tissues, your bones are constantly remodeling themselves. In fact, you end up with a whole new skeleton about every ten years. It takes a steady supply of bone-building nutrients to keep forming healthy new bone, year after year.

As we age, we also have to be wary of bone loss. The bone-remodeling process has two phases: resorption, or breakdown of old bone, and formation, or building new bone. One we hit our early thirties, the pace of bone resorption begins to overtake the process of bone formation, so we do gradually lose bone mass over time.1 But getting the right nutrients can help us maintain better bone density as we age and avoid accelerated bone loss.

You probably already know that calcium is important for bone health. It’s the main ingredient your bones are made of, after all. But calcium doesn’t work all by itself. For starters, your body needs certain vitamins and minerals in order to absorb calcium and use it properly. Still other vitamins and minerals help with healthy bone formation and protection against bone loss. These nutrients work together in complex ways, and are most effective together.

Here are 10 nutrients you need to maintain healthy bones, and why they are important:

1. Calcium

Calcium is the main structural component of your bones, giving them their hardness and mineral density. But your bones also serve as a storage bank for calcium, in case your body needs it for other functions. Your body needs a certain amount of calcium in the blood to support essential functions like muscle contractions and nerve impulses. When your blood levels of calcium are low, your body borrows it from your bones, contributing to loss of bone density.1 This is why it’s important to get enough calcium in your diet. 

Calcium supplements have long been recommended for older adults at risk of bone loss. But how you take your calcium also matters. Most supplements use isolated calcium derived from limestone, which can be hard for the body to absorb. When calcium isn’t metabolized well, it’s not only less beneficial for your bones, but you can end up with calcium deposits in unwanted places. 

That’s why our Bone Strength supplement uses a clinically researched, plant-based calcium derived from marine algae. Unlike other forms of calcium, algae is a whole food, complete with co-nutrients that assist with calcium absorption. It’s also important to include crucial helper nutrients like vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin K2, which help your body to absorb and metabolize calcium correctly.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D promotes the active absorption of calcium in the gut. Without it, you can’t get the benefits of calcium from your food or supplements. It’s no wonder that studies consistently show a link between low vitamin D levels and poor bone density.2,3 Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is extremely common, especially for older adults. 

Vitamin D comes mostly from unprotected sun exposure, so if you don’t spend much time outdoors, taking a supplement is a good idea. Look for vitamin D3, not D2, since this is the form that’s most effective for your body. Most vitamin D3 supplements on the market are animal-sourced, but we like to use a plant-based, Vegan Vitamin D3 in our supplements. A controlled study confirmed that taking vitamin D along with algae-based calcium significantly improves bone mineralization,4 so we use both in our Bone Strength supplement.

3. Magnesium

Magnesium converts Vitamin D into its active form in the body. So before Vitamin D can help you absorb calcium, you need magnesium to activate vitamin D. But that’s just the beginning of what magnesium does. It also helps your body to assimilate calcium and regulates how calcium is distributed in the body, so that it’s absorbed into your bones and not your soft tissues. Then it works in close partnership with calcium to build healthy bone mineral density. 

Most of us are a little short in magnesium, but studies have shown that taking magnesium supplements can help improve bone density.5,6 The evidence shows that plant-based magnesium from algae is more bioavailable than other forms,7 so that’s what we use in our Bone Strength supplement.

4. Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 has a very important job in helping your body to use calcium correctly. It’s the traffic cop that directs calcium into your bones and out of your soft tissues and blood vessels. Science has only recently caught up to this fact, and it helps explain why taking calcium by itself has sometimes been linked with artery calcification.8 Keep in mind that the studies that showed this were using isolated, rock-based calcium without any vitamin K2. Multiple studies now show that vitamin K2 helps protect against artery calcification and reduce heart health risks.9,10,11,12   

The Western diet is very low in vitamin K2, which is found mostly in obscure fermented foods. That means most of us could use a vitamin K2 supplement for improved heart health as well as bone health.10,13 Studies have shown that lack of vitamin K2 is linked with poor bone density and increased bone health risks.14 We made sure to include it in our Bone Strength supplement.

5. Vitamin C

You may not have heard much about Vitamin C as a bone health nutrient. But vitamin C is crucial for the production of collagen, a major building block for the body’s tissues, including bone. Collagen is the main protein in bones and makes up the flexible inner part surrounded by the hard calcium exterior. Not only is vitamin C essential for healthy bone formation, it may also protect against bone loss by helping to reduce oxidative stress, which can damage bone cells.15 Studies generally show a positive link between vitamin C intake and better bone health outcomes.16 We included a vitamin C boost in our Bone Health supplement, in a plant-based form derived from Acerola cherries.

6. Zinc

Zinc plays a crucial role in bone growth, especially during childhood and adolescence, and is essential for bone remodeling during adulthood. It activates enzymes that stimulate bone growth, and may also play a role in promoting collagen formation and bone-building osteoblast activity.17 Research indicates that zinc may also help slow excessive bone breakdown.18 Studies have linked zinc supplementation with improved bone density.19,20 Most of us are a little short in zinc, so we included some in our Bone Strength supplement.

7. Potassium

The Western diet tends to be high in acidic foods such as meat and cheese, and often lacking in alkaline foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Potassium is an alkaline salt found in fruits and vegetables. It helps neutralize acids from the diet to restore pH balance in the body. This is important for bone health, because too much acidity can contribute to bone loss. When the body is too acidic, it may borrow alkaline calcium salts from the bones in order to neutralize the acid.1  Studies have shown that getting more potassium in your diet is linked with better bone density.21 If you eat an acidic or high salt diet, you may need more potassium to help balance the effects.

8. Manganese

Manganese helps kickstart bone formation by producing chondroitin sulfate, a major structural component of bone and cartilage which is often found in bone and joint support supplements. It’s also an important cofactor for several enzymes involved in bone formation. Although there are no clinical studies focused on how manganese improves human bone health, manganese has been shown to improve bone mineral density in rats,22 and it has shown positive results in humans when combined with calcium and other bone-building minerals.23 Manganese is a good team player, so we added it to the team in our Bone Strength supplement.

9. Boron

Another good team player, boron helps preserve bone density by supporting other important bone-building nutrients. It extends the half-life of vitamin D in the body and helps maintain healthy calcium and magnesium levels by reducing the amount that’s excreted from the body.24 What’s more, boron can extend the life of estrogen in the body.25 This is significant, because lack of estrogen is strongly linked with bone loss: it’s the reason that risk of bone loss increases dramatically for post-menopausal women. It’s also the reason that estrogen replacement therapy is an FDA-approved treatment for bone loss. A review of studies on the benefits of boron for bone health concluded that a daily dose of 3mg boron was recommended,26 so we followed this advice in our Bone Strength formula.

10. Silica

Silica is a trace mineral found throughout the earth. It’s also in our bodies, but it tends to decrease with age. This is unfortunate, because silica helps stimulate the production of collagen, an important component of healthy bone, skin, and connective tissue. It also helps the bone manage calcium and draw it into the bones where it belongs. Silica may also stimulate bone-growing osteoblasts27 and help inhibit bone breakdown.28 Studies link silica intake with better bone density,29,30 so we added it to our Bone Strength supplement, too, in the form of an herbal extract.


As you can see, if you want to preserve healthy bone density, it’s not enough to take calcium and call it a day. At the very least, calcium should always be combined with Vitamin D, magnesium, and Vitamin K2 to ensure that your body can absorb it and use it properly. Other helpful nutrients like zinc, Vitamin C, boron, silica, potassium and manganese play a supporting role that can make a significant difference in your bone health, especially when combined together. If you feel you may be short on some of these nutrients, we recommend our Bone Strength supplement to help maintain healthy levels and give you a better chance at lasting bone health.

References:

1.  “Bone Health in Depth.” Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, April 2019.

2. Bener A, Saleh NM. Low vitamin D, and bone mineral density with depressive symptoms burden in menopausal and postmenopausal women. J Midlife Health. 2015 Jul-Sep;6(3):108-14. doi: 10.4103/0976-7800.165590. PMID: 26538987; PMCID: PMC4604669.

3. Hill TR, Aspray TJ. The role of vitamin D in maintaining bone health in older people. Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis. 2017 Apr;9(4):89-95. doi: 10.1177/1759720X17692502. Epub 2017 Feb 14. PMID: 28382112; PMCID: PMC5367643.

4. Widaa, A., Brennan, O., O'Gorman, D.M. and O'Brien, F.J. (2014), The Osteogenic Potential of the Marine‐Derived Multi‐Mineral Formula Aquamin Is Enhanced by the Presence of Vitamin D. Phytother. Res., 28: 678-684. doi:10.1002/ptr.5038

5.  Stendig-Lindberg G, Tepper R, Leichter I. Trabecular bone density in a two year controlled trial of peroral magnesium in osteoporosis. Magnes Res. 1993 Jun;6(2):155-63. PMID: 8274361.

6. Orchard TS, Larson JC, Alghothani N, Bout-Tabaku S, Cauley JA, Chen Z, LaCroix AZ, Wactawski-Wende J, Jackson RD. Magnesium intake, bone mineral density, and fractures: results from the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Apr;99(4):926-33. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.067488. Epub 2014 Feb 5. PMID: 24500155; PMCID: PMC3953885.

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8. Bolland MJ, Avenell A, Baron JA, Grey A, MacLennan GS, Gamble GD, Reid IR. Effect of calcium supplements on risk of myocardial infarction and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2010 Jul 29;341:c3691. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c3691. PMID: 20671013; PMCID: PMC2912459.

9. Geleijnse JM, Vermeer C, Grobbee DE, Schurgers LJ, Knapen MH, van der Meer IM, Hofman A, Witteman JC. Dietary intake of menaquinone is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: the Rotterdam Study. J Nutr. 2004 Nov;134(11):3100-5. doi: 10.1093/jn/134.11.3100. PMID: 15514282.

10. Maresz, Katarzyna. “Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health.” Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.) vol. 14,1 (2015): 34-9.

11. Scheiber, D.; Veulemans, V.; Horn, P.; Chatrou, M.L.; Potthoff, S.A.; Kelm, M.; Schurgers, L.J.; Westenfeld, R. High-dose menaquinone-7 supplementation reduces cardiovascular calcification in a murine model of extraosseous calcification. Nutrients 2015, 7, 6991–7011. doi:10.3390/nu7085318

12. Vossen, L.M.; Schurgers, L.J.; van Varik, B.J.; Kietselaer, B.L.; Vermeer, C.; Meeder, J.G.; Rahel, B.M.; van Cauteren, Y.J.; Hoffland, G.A.; Rennenberg, R.J.; et al. Menaquinone-7 supplementation to reduce vascular calcification in patients with coronary artery disease: Rationale and study protocol (VitaK-CAC Trial). Nutrition 2015, 7, 8905–8915. doi:10.3390/nu7115443

13. Schwalfenberg, Gerry Kurt. “Vitamins K1 and K2: The Emerging Group of Vitamins Required for Human Health.” Journal of nutrition and metabolism vol. 2017 (2017): 6254836. doi:10.1155/2017/6254836

14. Booth SL, Broe KE, Gagnon DR, Tucker KL, Hannan MT, McLean RR, Dawson-Hughes B, Wilson PW, Cupples LA, Kiel DP. Vitamin K intake and bone mineral density in women and men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Feb;77(2):512-6. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/77.2.512. PMID: 12540415.

15. Spritzler, Franziska. “10 Natural Ways to Build Healthy Bones.” Healthline, Jan 2017.

16. Sahni S., Kiel D.P., Hannan M.T. (2016) Vitamin C and Bone Health. In: Weaver C., Daly R., Bischoff-Ferrari H. (eds) Nutritional Influences on Bone Health. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-32417-3_8

17. Seo, Hyun-Ju et al. “Zinc may increase bone formation through stimulating cell proliferation, alkaline phosphatase activity and collagen synthesis in osteoblastic MC3T3-E1 cells.” Nutrition research and practice vol. 4,5 (2010): 356-61. doi:10.4162/nrp.2010.4.5.356

18. Yamaguchi, M. Role of nutritional zinc in the prevention of osteoporosis. Mol Cell Biochem 338, 241–254 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11010-009-0358-0

19.  Fung, Ellen B et al. “Zinc supplementation improves bone density in patients with thalassemia: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 98,4 (2013): 960-71. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.049221

20. Mahdavi-Roshan, Marjan et al. “Copper, magnesium, zinc and calcium status in osteopenic and osteoporotic post-menopausal women.” Clinical cases in mineral and bone metabolism : the official journal of the Italian Society of Osteoporosis, Mineral Metabolism, and Skeletal Diseases vol. 12,1 (2015): 18-21. doi:10.11138/ccmbm/2015.12.1.018

21. Kong SH, Kim JH, Hong AR, Lee JH, Kim SW, Shin CS. Dietary potassium intake is beneficial to bone health in a low calcium intake population: the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES) (2008-2011). Osteoporos Int. 2017 May;28(5):1577-1585. doi: 10.1007/s00198-017-3908-4. Epub 2017 Jan 16. PMID: 28093633.

22. Bae YJ, Kim MH. Manganese supplementation improves mineral density of the spine and femur and serum osteocalcin in rats. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2008 Jul;124(1):28-34. doi: 10.1007/s12011-008-8119-6. Epub 2008 Mar 11. PMID: 18330520.

23.  Strause L, Saltman P, Smith KT, Bracker M, Andon MB. Spinal bone loss in postmenopausal women supplemented with calcium and trace minerals. J Nutr. 1994 Jul;124(7):1060-4. doi: 10.1093/jn/124.7.1060. PMID: 8027856.

24. Nielsen FH, Hunt CD, Mullen LM, Hunt JR. Effect of dietary boron on mineral, estrogen, and testosterone metabolism in postmenopausal women. FASEB J. 1987 Nov;1(5):394-7. PMID: 3678698.

25. Crans, Brian. “Brains, Bones, and Boron.” Healthline, March 2019.

26. Mariangela Rondanelli, Milena Anna Faliva, Gabriella Peroni, Vittoria Infantino, Clara Gasparri, Giancarlo Iannello, Simone Perna, Antonella Riva, Giovanna Petrangolini, Alice Tartara. “Pivotal role of boron supplementation on bone health: A narrative review.” Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, Volume 62, 2020, 126577, ISSN 0946-672X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtemb.2020.126577.

27. Reffitt DM, Ogston N, Jugdaohsingh R, Cheung HF, Evans BA, Thompson RP, Powell JJ, Hampson GN. Orthosilicic acid stimulates collagen type 1 synthesis and osteoblastic differentiation in human osteoblast-like cells in vitro. Bone. 2003 Feb;32(2):127-35. doi: 10.1016/s8756-3282(02)00950-x. PMID: 12633784.

28. Mladenović Ž, Johansson A, Willman B, Shahabi K, Björn E, Ransjö M. Soluble silica inhibits osteoclast formation and bone resorption in vitro. Acta Biomater. 2014 Jan;10(1):406-18. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2013.08.039. Epub 2013 Sep 6. PMID: 24016843.

29. Jugdaohsingh R et al. “Dietary silicon intake is positively associated with bone mineral density in men and premenopausal women of the Framingham Offspring cohort.” Journal of Bone Mineral Research.19(2):297-307. (2004).

30. Price CT et al. “Silicon: a review of its potential role in the prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis.” International Journal of Endocrinology. April 2013