Supporting the body’s structural integrity is a vital priority for maintaining health as we age. Having healthy bones doesn’t only mean staying pain-free, but it also means maintaining optimal mobility well into our ages of wisdom. It’s often assumed that reduced mobility and poor bone density is just another inevitable condition of aging, but this is far from the truth. Proper nourishment and appropriate movement practises such as weight-bearing exercise promote flexibility, strength and mobility, and help maintain bone density and prevent injury.
Protecting our bones isn’t just important for longevity, though – it is equally important for athletes who stress their structural systems beyond normal wear and tear. Additionally, women with low estrogen (hypothalamic amenorrhea, relative energy deficiency in sport (REDS), some cases of infertility) should pay extra attention, as estrogen promotes osteoblast (bone producing cell) production. Pregnant and breastfeeding women also have a higher need for the following nutrients, as many of her own stores are being used for production of the fetus’ skeletal system, and/or for the nutrient density of her milk.
One of the biggest players when it comes to bone health is calcium. Dairy products are the obvious source of dietary calcium, but this macro mineral can also be found in bones. Bone based calcium is highly absorbable, and is proven to be more bioavailable than plant based calcium. This is yet another reason to regularly consume bone broth, but bone-in cuts of fish are also great sources – think canned salmon, tuna and whole sardines. Other sources of calcium include nuts and seeds (particularly sesame seeds or tahini), and green vegetables, including broccoli and leafy greens.
Other nutrients that are vital for bone health include magnesium and vitamin D3, both of which control the absorption of calcium from the digestive track into the bloodstream. Magnesium is best sourced from plant based foods including nuts and seeds, and leafy greens. Vitamin D3 is found primarily in animal foods, especially oily fish, liver, animal fats such as lard, tallow, and bone marrow, and fish eggs and the yolks from poultry eggs.
Another primary nutrient for bone health is vitamin K2. This vitamin was originally referred to as “Activator X” by Dr. Weston Price, a nutrition researcher in the 1930’s. This fat soluble vitamin has been long identified as a key factor in bone and dental health, and is responsible for transporting calcium from the bloodstream and depositing it into structural tissues such as bones and teeth. Vitamin K2 also prevents arterial calcification by removing build up of the mineral in soft cardiac tissues such as arteries. Vitamin K2 is distinctively different in function than its counterpart, vitamin K1. While Vitamin K1 is abundant and readily available in plant based foods such as leafy green vegetables, Vitamin K2 is somewhat elusive. It is mostly found in animal foods, particularly grass fed butter and ghee, aged cheeses (especially gouda), liver, egg yolks, and dark poultry meat. The only meaningful sources of plant based Vitamin K2 are natto (a fermented soybean paste common in Japanese cuisine) and smaller amounts in fermented vegetables.
A few other nutrients play a less pronounced (yet still important) role in maintaining health of the structural system, including phosphorous, zinc, and trace minerals boron, copper, and manganese. These minerals play a role in supporting calcium absorption and utilization, act as cofactors for enzymes that initiate the production of osteoblasts (bone building cells), and support collagen production.
Eating a diet rich in grass fed, pasture raised and ethically treated nose-to-tail animal foods (including bones, organs, and eggs) is vital for optimizing overall health, and will specifically support the health of the structural system. Supplements can provide extra support for individuals at particularly high risk for conditions of the bones or joints. Many adults take a generic calcium supplement or multi-mineral formula with bone health in mind, but it’s imperative to use the right variety. Microcrystalline hydroxyapatite (MCHA) is a highly absorbable form of calcium derived from grass fed beef bones. As this is a whole food rather than a synthetically created mineral, it contains a balanced ratio of calcium to phosphorous, trace minerals, and has the greatest bioavailability. Avoid poorly absorbed forms of calcium, including rock or coral based calcium (calcium carbonate) and synthetics (calcium citrate) which have low bioavailability and increase risk for elevated serum calcium and arterial calcification.
Kayla MacDonald, R.H.N.