The recent headlines require a closer look because calcium taken alone is not getting rave reviews. In fact, a growing body of research—especially some studies recently published in the British Medical Journal—indicates that calcium alone may increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular unhealth in those who take only calcium.
Note that the research focuses on taking calcium by itself. The studies’ results were for calcium-only supplements, but vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium more readily—and studies have found no adverse effects among those who take calcium plus vitamin D.
Of course, food sources are always recommended first when it comes to getting adequate nutrient intake, including calcium and vitamin D. For those, however, whose diets fall short of required nutrient amounts, wise supplementation is a viable option.
Here are some bone-supporting nutrients and their food sources:
Calcium: Excellent sources of calcium include yogurt, sesame seeds, goat’s milk, cow’s milk, Swiss cheese, mozzarella cheese, and canned salmon with bones. Green, leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, bok choy, turnip greens, mustard greens and cooked spinach are packed with calcium, too. Legumes—including black-eyed peas, navy beans and kidney beans—supply good sources of calcium. Additionally, tahini, almonds, basil, oranges and almonds provide quality calcium sources.
Vitamin D: As mentioned earlier, Vitamin D must be present for the body to fully absorb calcium and can actually increase calcium absorption twofold or more depending on the individual. Unfortunately, 70% of women ages 51-70 and 90% of women over 70 don’t get enough vitamin D from food and supplements. Excellent sources of vitamin D3 (a preferred form of vitamin D) include wild, coldwater fish like salmon, cod, mackerel and sardines; egg yolks; beef liver; whole milk and other dairy foods.
Vitamin K2: Vitamin K belongs to compounds called anphthoquinones and includes vitamins K1, K2 and K3. Vitamin K plays a strong role in normal bone growth and bone metabolism. K2 also makes sure calcium gets to the right places—like bones and blood—and stays out of the wrong places, like soft tissues—which can lead to cardiovascular unhealth. It also activates at least three proteins in osteoblasts, the cells that generate bone, while inhibiting the breaking down of bone.
Vitamin K2 helps maintain bone mass by activating the bone protein osteocalcin, which anchors calcium inside the bone. Vitamin K2 occurs in several forms, but two primary types are menaquinine-4 (MK-4) and menaquinine-7 (MK-7). MK-4 is synthesized by animals for their own use via vitamin K1 intake. MK-7 is made in large amounts by the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, found in natto, a fermented Japanese soybean food with the highest amount of vitamin K2. Other foods high in K2 are fermented cheeses, grass-fed dairy and butter, and organ meats.
Magnesium: Calcium may be a cornerstone of bone health, but magnesium controls calcium’s fate. In fact, if magnesium levels are insufficient, then calcium can pass right on through the body and not find its way to the bones. What’s worse is that if magnesium isn’t along for the ride, then calcium might get off track and go for the soft tissues like arteries and kidneys. Foods high in magnesium include: spinach, Swiss chard, halibut, salmon, raw pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, black-eyed peas, sesame seeds, black beans and navy beans.
Calcium was never meant to be the Lone Ranger. Your bones need an array of nutrients to be healthy and strong.