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Bones - Keeping Them for Life

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Many of us take our bones for granted until we run into trouble; we break one or get a diagnosis of early bone loss or osteopenia. The fact of the matter is bones play a role in our overall health; they give our body structure and support, store marrow for red blood cell and antibody production and serve as a reservoir for calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.

Contrary to what many may think, bones are living tissues that are constantly being broken down and rebuilt, a process called remodelling, and just like home renovations, a good reno is only as good as the building materials being used. This is where quality nutrition comes into play. Healthy bones need an adequate supply of specific nutrients including calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamins D and K2, andprotein.

Calcium is needed to replace what is lost from the normal process of bone remodeling. The recommended daily intake of calcium from all sources for younger adults is 1000 mg and for those over 50 years of age, 1200 mg. Good food sources include dairy, green vegetables, nuts and seeds, fortified milk-alternatives, fish with bones, and tofu. A small amount form supplements can be appropriate and is safe.

Two-thirds of magnesium is found in our bones. Recommended intakes are 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women per day; most are challenged to get this much. Best food sources include: nuts and seeds, whole grains and whole grain breads and cereals, quinoa, spinach, fish, and pulses (lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas). A supplement might be needed too.

Zinc helps vitamin D to work properly and it also helps to make sure that the calcium you get from food or supplements is used by your bones. Look to meats, poultry, cheese, beans, pumpkin seeds and shellfish for best sources.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D has gotten a lot of press lately and for good reason, it is a powerful nutrient with many positive benefits. Its primary role, however, is to enable the absorption of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium; minerals needed for strong bones. Vitamin D is produced by sunlight, but in Canada, that only happens from about May to the end of September. Factors that affect vitamin D production include amount of time spent outside, how much of your skin is exposed, sunscreen use and complexion; darker skin individuals require a lot more sun exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D as those who are fair skinned. There are very few reliable food sources that have vitamin D in amounts needed for optimal bone health. Supplementation is nearly always needed.

Vitamin K2
The research is fairly clear: vitamin K2 is needed to ensure that the calcium from food or supplements makes its way into bone tissue while keeping it out of soft tissues like blood vessels. Vitamin K2 is produced by bacteria and is mainly found in fermented foods such as aged cheeses, yogurt and a fermented soy food known as natto which is the best source. Supplements can also help.

Contrary to popular belief, a higher protein intake does not leach calcium from bones. In fact, the bulk of the evidence shows that a low protein diet has a detrimental effect on bone quality. The optimal protein intake to support a healthy skeleton appears to be in the range of 1.0-1.5 g per kilogram of body weight. Best sources include: eggs, dairy, legumes, meat, fish and poultry, soy and whey.

Doug Cook RD, MHSc is a Registered Dietitian and Integrative & Functional Nutritionist. He uses a holistic nutritional approach providing science-based guidance on food and diet along with the judicious use of nutritional supplements where appropriate.He is the coauthor of Nutrition for Canadians for Dummies (Wiley, 2008) and The Complete Leaky Gut Health & Diet Book (Robert Rose, Spring 2015). You can learn more about Doug by visiting his Facebook page, following him on Twitter, or by checking out his website www.dougcookrd.com.