What To Look For In A Bone Health Supplement
You could say the skeletal system is the unsung hero of our health and wellness. Indeed you’ve got it to thank for every single movement in your day: your morning strolls to work, sitting at your desk, and making a cup of tea. Even beyond motion, your bones provide the very scaffolding that prop your body up to resemble a human being. Without them, you’d merely be a blob of skin and organs. Despite this, bones don’t usually receive the praise they deserve until old age – at which point you’ve missed the boat to improve your long-term bone health. We think it’s about time people changed the way they perceive bone health. We want to emphasise that you can – and should – prioritise your bones at every age. It’s never too early to start building a body for life.
Alongside exercising, leading a balanced lifestyle, and avoiding habits that will hijack your bone health, nutrition is an essential building block of strong, sturdy bones. Besides dietary sources of bone-supporting goodness, supplementation is a smart addition to your bone health arsenal. But with such an array of supplements on the market – with many promising to have cure-all formulas – it can be hard to know what to look for. With that in mind, we’ve cut through all the jargon and distilled everything you need to know before investing in a bone health supplement.
Key nutritional players
Above all else, make sure your supplement packs adequate levels of the following vitamins and minerals. Think of these as your bedrock for healthy bones.
Calcium: the cornerstone of bone health
When you think of bones, you think of calcium. And you’d be correct to do so. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, with your bones and teeth serving as dense reservoirs of it. Adequate calcium intake isn’t only vital for bone health; it’s also needed for signalling between cells, muscle contraction, and blood clotting. Trouble is, your body will leach the mineral from your bones when you’re deficient in it, making them weak, porous and brittle. There are countless studies substantiating the notion that calcium bolsters bones. In one study, low levels of calcium were directly associated with poor bone mass density and an increased risk of developing bone health conditionsi.
Naturally, then, calcium should form a significant chunk (literally) of your bone health supplement. Although the recommended daily allowance of this mineral is 700mg, high-strength formulas will typically supply 500mg. Since calcium physically takes up a lot of room in each supplement, providing any more than this amount would require users to swallow bigger tablets or increase the dosage. For many suppliers, this just isn’t an option. That being said, a potent formula will certainly help you achieve your total calcium intake. Just be sure to continue eating a range of calcium-rich foods; dairy, leafy greens, canned fish, and fortified foods are teeming with bone-loving calcium.
Vitamin D3: calcium’s trusty steed
Of course, calcium is only half the story when it comes to bone health. Otherwise known as the ‘sunshine nutrient’, vitamin D is also essential. You see, calcium and vitamin D have a reciprocal relationship: calcium bolsters and sustains bones, while vitamin D supports the absorption of calcium. So, even if your body is brimming with calcium, it’s ultimately ineffective if your vitamin D reserves are dry. Science continuously points to a combination of calcium and vitamin D working wonders at keeping bones healthy and robustii.
In the UK, adults are advised to consume 10mcg of vitamin D every day, so look for anything between 5 and 10mcg in your chosen bone health formula. As far as the type of vitamin D is concerned, always go for vitamin D3 over D2. Why? Well, this form of vitamin D is used much more effectively and efficiently in the body. Besides your supplementation, of course you should also continue getting enough direct sun exposure (in moderation) and packing vitamin D-rich foods (herrings, trout, tuna, salmon, mushrooms, eggs, and fortified foods) into your diet.
Magnesium: the unsung hero of bone health
Calcium isn’t the only mineral needed for healthy, happy bones. Making up around 50-60% of the body’s skeleton, any discussions of bone health can’t overlook the structural and functional importance of magnesium. This mineral plays a key role in converting vitamin D its active form, thereby allowing for optimal calcium absorption. Without it, the bone-loving properties of vitamin D and calcium can’t be fully realised. Magnesium also supports the structural growth of new bone tissue. In one study, poor magnesium intake was directly associated with lower bone mass density throughout the whole body, especially in the hip regioniii.
Like calcium, magnesium will also take up a sizeable amount of any bone health supplement. So, while the RDA of magnesium is 300mg, most high-strength formulas will deliver around 250mg. Again, providing any more than this level would make dosage and tablet size an issue. But trust us when we say this quantity will be enough to nourish your skeletal system and support the absorption of the other bone-supporting nutrients, vitamin D and calcium. This will also leave room for a dietary intake of magnesium sources, such as legumes, dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, bananas, and dark chocolate.
Vitamin K2: a vital marker of bone health
You’re probably not too familiar with vitamin K. But if you want to prioritise your bone health, best you get acquainted. This bone-supporting powerhouse aids bone formation and strength. It also supports the balance of calcium in the body, which – as outlined above – is a cornerstone of bone health. Studies even propose vitamin K may decrease the rate of bone loss in postmenopausal womeniv.
We should point out that not all vitamin K is created equally. There’s vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) and vitamin K2 (menaquinone). Unlike the former, vitamin K2 is chock-full of bone-loving goodness, so be sure to opt for this type in your bone health formula. Look for a supplement that supplies 90mcg of vitamin K per two tablets, too.
As always, scout for products with clear, honest, and accurate labelling – don’t settle for anything less. This means investing in a supplement that fully complies with the current UK labelling regulations and declares all the ingredients used. What’s more, ensure all ingredients are listed in elementary weights – not compound weights. And avoid formulas with ‘window dressing’ – in other words, nutrients that add little value to the finished product.
We also suggest buying products that are entirely UK-made – that is, supplements produced from scratch in UK factories, licenced by the MHRA for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and working to the Goods Manufacturing Practice. Be wary that many mail-order companies proceed to bulk-buy ‘off the shelf’ tablets from China and India, package them in the UK, and then brand them as ‘UK-made’. Although this is somewhat legal, we believe this loophole is misleading.
Dosage and disintegration
In light of the sheer quantity of each nutrient needed to nourish bones (especially with regards to calcium and magnesium), don’t be alarmed if you need to take two to three tablets per day to reap the bone-supporting benefits. Keep your eye on the disintegration time of each tablet, too. Ideally, you want a formula that disintegrates within 60 minutes for optimal absorption.
If you’re already taking a multivitamin, don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve got your bone health locked down. While a comprehensive multi will lay a strong foundation for your overall health and wellness, it won’t necessarily target your bones. In particular, the calcium content will be pretty negligible or else the tablet would be humongous! With this in mind, we would suggest adding a bone health formula to your usual supplement regime, but instead of taking the recommended two-tablet dosage, stick with just one –a-day to ensure you’re not over-consuming some nutrients.
Kim. K., Choi. S., Lim. S., Moon. J., Kim. J., Kim. S., Jang. H. & Shin. C. (2014). Interactions Between Dietary Calcium Intake and Bone Mineral Density or Bone Geometry in a Low Calcium Intake Population (KNHANES IV 2008–2010). The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 99(7), 2409-2417.
Patient level pooled analysis of 68 500 patients from seven major vitamin D fracture trials in US and Europe. (2011). BMJ. 343(aug30 1), d5245-d5245.
Orchard. T., Larson. J., Alghothani. N., Bout-Tabaku. S., Cauley. J., Chen. Z., LaCroix. A., Wactawski-Wende. J. & Jackson. R. (2014). Magnesium intake, bone mineral density, and fractures: results from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 99(4), 926-9.
Iwamoto. J. (2014). Vitamin K therapy for postmenopausal osteoporosis. Nutrients. 6(5), 1971–1980.
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Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.