Taking Only Calcium For Bones is Taking a Risk – Part 1

medical imaging of an injury on the hand

Bones are more than calcium! If you are looking to have strong, healthy bones, you need to be aware of all components. When you AREN’T, you can actually make things worse. If you are taking a calcium supplement without addressing the other aspects, you may increase your risk of kidney stones, arterial plaque, cardiovascular disease, and more.

When it comes to bone health, you need to be aware of:

  1. ALL needed nutrients
  2. In balance
  3. In the right form
  4. With a supportive lifestyle around it

Over the next few posts, we will break each of these down and dig into the truth about bone health.

Contrary to popular belief, our bones are not static. They are not “frozen in form” like a plastic Halloween skeleton. They are dynamic, growing, shifting, and forming.

When we break a bone, bone cells grow back slowly and the fracture or break heals. Your bones are alive! And like the rest of your body, your bones want to heal – and they do, when we know how to properly care for them, and feed them.

So in today’s post, we will start with a review of Sections #1 and #2 — all the needed nutrients, and how they work in tandem.

1: ALL NEEDED NUTRIENTS

Healthy bones do require calcium, but you also need magnesium, phosphorous, Vitamin D, Vitamin K2, collagen, and glycoproteins.

Calcium

The crux of this article! When it comes to bone health, supplementing calcium is nearly the LEAST important of all aspects – it’s not NOT important, but it is lower on the priority list. We can blame dairy lobbyists for that massive marketing push!

The scary truth is that supplementing with calcium alone comes with HUGE RISKS, without any of the compounding factors we’re discussing here.

Too much calcium can lead to hypercalcemia. When we have too much free-floating calcium, it can be downright dangerous! – which will be elaborated in section #2: IN BALANCE WITH EACH OTHER. Some symptoms of hypercalcemia include kidney stones, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, bradycardia, cardiac arrhythmias, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, fatigue, memory loss, depression, anxiety, coma, and even death.

Yes, calcium is one of the major mineral components of bone, and deficiency can lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis. If you are looking to heal bone damage from arthritis, calcium is an important piece of the puzzle – along with everything else discussed here. But we want APPROPRIATE levels in the right balances. Most of this can come through food. Supplement mindfully if needed.

**Food Sources and Supplement notes for each nutrient will be listed under #3: IN THE RIGHT FORMS – to be published later this month

Protein

By volume, your bones are 50% protein, the bulk of that as Type 1 Collagen. So be sure to get enough protein in general – that can range from 0.8-2.2g/kg based on your heigh, age, weight, gender, health status, and goals. But, most studies see that at least 1.4g/kg/day with a minimum of 90g/day had a positive effect on bone density. (Join the wait-list for the Personalized Nutrition Program I’m working on, to help determine your exact needs)

There was an old study done that showed a higher intake of protein lead to a higher level of calcium in the urine, and it was assumed that meant the high protein was causing more bone turnover or breakdown. We know now that hypothesis was misleading. First, most of those studies used dairy protein – which may have more of an inflammatory issue. So once other protein sources were included, and compared, we found that protein actually helps with the calcium absorption, so protein intake helps with healthy bones.

A research review from Examine explains it nicely this way: “What happens is that when you ingest more protein, you absorb more of the calcium in your food, so less calcium ends up in your feces. Later, your body gets rid of the calcium it doesn’t need, so more calcium ends up in your urine, but not as much as would have otherwise ended in your feces. Therefore, an increase in protein intake leads to an overall decrease in calcium excretion, which points to an increase in calcium retention. High-protein diets also raise your insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) which promotes notable bone growth. All in all, current evidence suggests that protein’s effect on bones is either neutral or beneficial.

Vitamin D

Low vitamin D levels are incredibly common. “Except during the summer months, the skin makes little if any vitamin D from the sun at latitudes above 37 degrees north (in the United States, the shaded region in the map) or below 37 degrees south of the equator. People who live in these areas are at relatively greater risk for vitamin D deficiency.”  (Harvard University)

And, as we will discuss more in section #4 LIFESTYLE – increased inflammation exacerbates bone breakdown. It is critical for many reasons to keep Vitamin D levels in a healthy range.

When it comes to bone health, Vitamin D is needed to help your small intestines absorb the calcium you ingest.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is needed to help get calcium from your blood stream and into the bones, help regulate bone mineralization, help accumulate collagen, inhibit the cells that breakdown bone, and stimulate the cells that build bone.

Magnesium

Magnesium is another major mineral component of the bone matrix; and over 50% of people are low in magnesium. If you are stressed, or inflamed, that burns through more magnesium – and inflammation also breaks down bone more quickly. And, like protein, if you have some GI issues, you will likely struggle to absorb enough Magnesium. So address gut health!

Our sweat is another way people lose a lot of magnesium – it is one of the electrolytes lost. Therefore high-training athletes can be at risk. It is common to hear people have stiff muscles or muscle cramps if they are low in magnesium.

Additional Supportive Nutrients:

Strontium, Silica, and Vanadium — but as they are smaller portions, and this post has gotten long enough, we’ll leave it off here for now.

2: IN BALANCE WITH EACH OTHER

All of those needed nutrients work together, and if out of balance, can imbalance health.

Vitamin D helps your intestines absorb more of the calcium – having the calcium sit in your stomach doesn’t do anyone any good. You need the vitamin D to absorb it and get it into your blood stream.

But, we don’t just want it floating around there doing laps through your circulatory system!

If you take in more calcium than your body can shuttle into your bones, you then get free calcium in your body. High Free Calcium Excess is seen with chronic inflammation, arthritis, and especially heart disease because that free floating calcium can calcify in your arteries. It’s very much like plaque on your teeth, but in your arteries.

Instead, you need Vitamin K to help transport the calcium from blood to the bone and drive it in, where it then can help.

So if you take in all this calcium, but don’t have enough of the other nutrients to get it into the bone tissue, then you may be at an increased risk for the health issues mentioned before.

Your bone matrix is a beautifully complex web of all of these nutrients, so all are needed in your nutrition plan, with your body’s ability to properly digest, break down, absorb, and utilize them.


Stay tuned for Sections #3 and 4: Food sources, and important things to know about supplements; and how lifestyle factors in as well.


SOURCES:

Allen, Susan. “Certificate of Training in Integrative and Functional Medical Nutrition Therapy.” Dietary Supplements. Vitamin D and Minerals. Next Level Functional Nutrition. 2017/2019.

Goolsby MA, Boniquit N. Bone Health in Athletes. Sports Health. 2017 Mar/Apr;9(2):108-117. doi: 10.1177/1941738116677732. Epub 2016 Nov 30. PMID: 27821574; PMCID: PMC5349390.; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5349390/pdf/10.1177_1941738116677732.pdf

Hull, Michael MSc; Brown, Wyatt. Sicart, Pierre-Alexandre PhD (Ed). Bone Health Supplement Guide. Examine. Sept 2020.

Lanham-New, Susan A. “Importance of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K for osteoporosis prevention and treatment.” The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society vol. 67,2 (2008): 163-76. doi:10.1017/S0029665108007003; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18412990/

Palermo, Andrea et al. “Vitamin K and osteoporosis: Myth or reality?.” Metabolism: clinical and experimental vol. 70 (2017): 57-71. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2017.01.032; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28403946/

“Time for More Vitamin D.” Harvard Health Publishing; Harvard Medical School. September 1, 2008. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/time-for-more-vitamin-d. Accessed November 7th, 2022.

“Vitamin K.” Harvard University, The Nutrition Source. Harvard University, T.H. Chan. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-k/. Accessed November 8, 2022.

“Vitamin K Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.” National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-HealthProfessional/#h3. Accessed November 8, 2022.

Published by Kate Cline, RD

Registered Dietitian with a focus on Gut Health, Inflammation, and Functional Nutrition. Personal Trainer with a focus on corrective exercise. Yoga teacher, traveler, empowerment coach.

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