You need more than calcium and vitamin D to fortify weak bones

Our skeletal structure requires a plethora of essential nutrients to maintain strength and flexibility.

  • Barbara Quinn Monterey Herald
  • Wednesday, December 23, 2020 1:30am
  • Life

Reader B.M. writes: “I was recently diagnosed with severe osteoporosis. I’ve tried to eat well and stay active my whole life (I’m 73 now). Is there anything I can do to slow or reverse this?”

Dear B.M.,

Here’s the sober news: As we age, our bones tend to become less dense and lose strength. Osteoporosis or “porous bones” happens when this loss of bone density becomes severe. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one in every two women and up to one in every four men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to this disease.

Age is not the only factor related to bone health, however. You’re smart to eat well and stay physically active. Our skeletal structure requires a plethora of essential nutrients to maintain strength and flexibility. And regular exercise helps pump those nutrients into our bones.

In addition to calcium and vitamin D, bones are nourished with protein, vitamins C and K, magnesium and potassium. In other words, the best diet to build and support strong bones is one that provides the right balance of foods from the five major nutrient groups — dairy or other calcium-rich foods, protein sources, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Even with the best diet and exercise plan, however, other conditions can rob strength from your bones. If you’ve had stomach surgery, for instance, or have diabetes or celiac disease, you have a higher risk for developing osteoporosis.

Certain medications can also weaken bones, especially if taken in excess, according to the NOF. These include steroids such as prednisone, antacids that contain aluminum, proton pump inhibitors such as Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec and excessive doses of thyroid hormones.

What can you do? First talk to your medical provider. Some treatments and medications can slow or help reverse bone loss.

Choose foods every day from all nutrient groups. Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Drink alcohol moderately, if at all. (Too much holiday cheer is bad for the bones.) Limit your intake of coffee, tea or other caffeine-containing beverages to no more than three servings a day.

Pay special attention to your calcium and vitamin D intake. Men 71 years of age and older need 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day from food and supplements combined. (One cup of milk, for example, provides about 300 milligrams of calcium.) Unless your physician advises a higher dose, men and women over the age of 50 need 800 to 1,000 IUs of vitamin D daily, from food and/or supplements.

Stay active! A recent study that included almost 900 men and women in your age category confirmed, not surprisingly, that those who spent less time sitting around and more time being physically active had significantly better bone mass than their couch potato counterparts.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian. Email her at to

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