Bone density and bone health can leave a lot of us feeling worried and scared -- no one wants to think about breaking a hip or fracturing a bone when we're over the hill.
Many of us have low bone density which can lead to bone health issues down the road.
Studies suggest that 50% of women and 25% of men over the age 50 will break a bone due to low bone density!
Unfortunately, bone formation happens when we're young -- during the time when we're thinking less about bone health and thinking more about diet sodas, Twizzlers and Twinkies. For females, the skeleton matures by age 20, for males by 23. (Bauman, 2014)
So, you may be thinking -- there's nothing I can do, my bones and formed, and it's all downhill from here. But, there's plenty we can do after our twenties to maintain the bone we have!
It may come as a shocker, but calcium is not the magic bone-growth pill or slice of strong-bone cheese that we may think. Sure, calcium plays a role in the bone formation matrix, but specific vitamin and minerals, gut health and exercise play large roles in bone health, too!
How much calcium do we need?
The amount of calcium we need to thrive is a bit controversial. The government recommends 1,000 to 1,200 mg. daily for adults. However, some suggest we only need 600-800 mg. daily. Aiming for an intake between 700-900 mg. seems like a good place to start.
1. Calcium Food Sources
Many people (including myself) have an intolerance to dairy. And this can be frightening -- the idea that the only food that will maintain our bone strength is the one that causes my stomach to cramp and my face to break out in acne!
Fear not -- there are plenty of non-dairy calcium sources that provide a good dose of bone-strengthening calcium.
Non-dairy calcium food sources
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds (351 mg.)
- 3.75 oz. sardines with bones (351 mg.)
- 1 cup collard greens (268 mg.)
- 1 cup of spinach (245 mg.)
- 3 oz. canned sockeye salmon with bones (188 mg.)
- 2 oz. almonds (150 mg.)
- 1 cup of kale (94 mg.)
- 1 cup of cabbage (63 mg.)
- 1 cup of broccoli (62 mg.)
- 1 cup of Brussels sprouts (56 mg.)
An extensive list of the calcium content of foods is available online from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dairy calcium food sources
- 8 oz. yogurt, plain, low-fat (415 mg.)
- 1 cup skim milk (306 mg.)
- 1.5 oz. cheddar cheese (303 mg.)
- 8 oz yogurt, plain, whole milk (275 mg.)
"We are what we absorb".
If we eat the recommended allotment of calcium from foods, but have an unhealthy gut lining due to inflammation and exposure to gut irritants, we can lose the ability to absorb calcium.
If gut health is essential to absorb calcium, how do we improve gut health?
- Remove inflammatory foods - sugar (artificial and natural), processed foods, gluten, non-gluten grains (including corn, soy), dairy, alcohol, NSAIDS and antibiotics
- Replace for proper digestion - eat anti-inflammatory foods (meats, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, fermented foods) and drink mineral-rich bone broth.
Have Celiac disease? One of the first symptoms of celiac disease is a decrease in bone density. The irritation to the gut lining from gluten can cause the small intestine gut lining to become compromised, leading to decreased absorption of nutrients like calcium.
3. Cofactors – Magnesium and Vitamin A, D and K2
Calcium must hold hands with other vitamins and minerals to absorb calcium into the bones.
Magnesium and calcium are synergistic minerals — the intake of magnesium is essential to absorb and store calcium in bones. If you choose to take a calcium supplement, you must choose one with magnesium! A chelated form of magnesium is most absorbed — magnesium glycinate (chelated with amino acid glycine), magnesium taurate (chelated with amino acid taurine). A good ratio is 1.5 Ca:1 Mg (600 mg Ca:400 mg Mg). Food sources of magnesium include nuts and green, leafy vegetables.
Vitamin A is essential for calcium absorption. The most potent food sources are liver, eggs and butter!
Vitamin D is best absorbed through sunshine. Not sure if you’re getting outside enough? The most popular assessment of Vitamin D is a serum test of calcidiol, or 25-hydroxyvitamin D. The Vitamin D council indicates a desirable range serum level to be 40 – 80 ng/mL.
Vitamin K2 is readily found in foods like butter, liver, egg yolk, cheeses and natto.
If you need to supplement, here’s a calcium supplement to consider.
Collagen makes up to 90% of bone mass.
Consuming collagen internally can improve bone metabolism and bone formation. Collagen can also help with joint pain. I recommend Vital Proteins 100% grass-fed collagen peptide powder.
Get out and move under load. Lift weights, do squats, move your body under tension. If you don’t use it, you lose it — bone mass included!