Bone health is an issue which is becoming increasingly more prominent in today’s society. According to the National Osteoporosis Society (1), one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 in the UK will suffer with a bone fracture. This is mainly due to poor bone health which means that we all need to know how important it is to build and maintain strong bones.
In addition to weight baring exercise, nutrition is absolutely vital for establishing strong bones in childhood and adolescence as this is when the body passes through the bone growth stages to create individual peak bone mass. Within the 4 years surrounding an adolescent’s peak height, around 39% of their total body bone mineral is gained. This highlights how crucial this time is for building strong bones for the future as we go in to adulthood, as low bone mineral growth during youth is linked to the risk of developing brittle bones and osteoporosis in older age.
Nutrients such as calcium, vitamins D and K and magnesium have all been specifically identified for bone health and having an influence on bone mineral density. A recent review (2) published in the journal Clinical Biochemistry focuses in particular on calcium’s effect on bone health. They reviewed numerous research papers looking into the effects of certain calcium rich foods on bone density.
For example, one study reported that women who had a lower intake of milk in childhood and adolescence had low bone density in adulthood and as a result they had a much greater risk of fractures later in life. Additionally, the authors reported on findings that with low intake of cow’s milk, even pre-pubertal children can have a higher risk of fractures which shows how important calcium intake is in early life.
As well as dietary calcium intake, calcium supplementation has also been found to be a fantastic contributor to bone mineral accretion. So be sure you add calcium to your family’s supplement regime to ensure all your bones are as strong as they can be to help prevent breakages.
Once peak bone mass is achieved around the age of 20 it needs to be maintained in the bone maintenance stage which lasts around 10-20 years. Then as we reach middle age our bone density starts to reduce by approximately 0.5–1.0% per year. However, it is important to note that female bone losses can be considerably more around the time of the menopause, at around 2–3% per year due to decreases in oestrogen levels. This represents a crucial time for maintaining bone density through our food and nutrition choices. Not surprisingly, calcium intake has been linked to the prevention of bone loss around this time.
Within the review paper, the research indicates that baseline calcium intakes of 500–1000 mg/day (meeting the recommended intake of 700mg a day) which were increased by 500–1200 mg/day prevented bone loss.
In order to be within this calcium intake, try to include the following foods into your typical day’s food intake, which combined equates to around 1578mg of calcium:
Typical servings: plain low fat yoghurt, 225g (415 mg of calcium), cheddar cheese, 40g (307mg), milk (around 300mg), pink salmon, 85g (181mg), Orange juice, calcium-fortified, 170ml (375mg). Dietary calcium is also available from sources such as other dairy products, bony fish, legumes, certain nuts (such as almonds and Brazil nuts), fortified soya milk and some fortified breakfast cereals also contain smaller amounts of calcium.
However, the report noted that most people’s calcium intake from dietary sources is often not sufficient especially for those that do not drink milk e.g. Chinese cultures. They therefore recommended calcium supplementation to meet the requirement. Vitamin D is also a great contributor to healthy bones on its own however when combined with calcium it has a much greater effect and the review noted that supplemental vitamin D combined with supplemental calcium can help to slow bone loss. This study included 1200 mg/day calcium and 1000 IU/day vitamin D supplementation and found that the two nutrients used together had a greater effect on maintaining bone density than when used individually.
It was also noted that calcium and vitamin D supplementation, at an intake of around 1000–1200mg calcium (depending on dietary calcium intake) and 800 IU vitamin D daily, is particularly important for those with osteoporosis or those at risk of its development. However, make sure that you are not exceeding the recommended upper limit of calcium which is 3,000 mg/day for children and adolescents aged 9–18 years, 2,500 mg/day for 19–50 year olds and 2,000mg/day for those aged> 50 years.
What all of this means it that it is really important to get enough calcium and vitamin D in both food and supplement forms to help keep bones healthy and strong, and also that your kids are getting enough to help build their bones for the future.
Written by Lauren Foster
(2) Zhu, K. & Prince, R.L. (2012) Calcium and bone. Clinical Biochemistry, p7.