We all know calcium is vital for bone health, but minerals such as zinc, phosphorus and magnesium – along with vitamin D – promote calcium absorption and play a part in strengthening and protecting our skeletons.
Bones are just like vital organs, supporting and protecting other important functions of the body. While providing structural support and mobility, bones also act as reservoirs for calcium, magnesium, zinc and other important minerals. When these minerals get too low in the blood, they are sucked up from the bones and released into the bloodstream. This means they can continue performing their necessary functions in other parts of the body. It’s therefore important we maintain the bones’ reservoir by ensuring we have an adequate intake of each mineral in our diets and so keeping minerals at optimal levels in the blood.
Of all the minerals in the human body, calcium is present more than any other. It contributes one to two per cent of total adult body weight, stored mostly in the bones and teeth. Beyond our bones, calcium is required for: the contraction and relaxation of muscles, including the heart; clotting of the blood; transmission of nerve impulses; and many other vital functions. Calcium supply needs to be kept topped up to meet these constant demands in order for the bones to retain their reservoir.
While dairy is promoted as the main source of this key mineral, dietary calcium from some vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds as well as small bones from fish (such as anchovies and sardines) is also beneficial for the bones and body.
While zinc is not the first mineral you think of when considering bone health (that would be calcium), it is vital in maintaining bone density. This mineral is thought to stimulate osteoblasts, the cells that create new bone, while inhibiting the action of osteoclasts, those cells that break down bone tissue.
Zinc is also essential for growth and development, and a deficiency in zinc has been linked to bone growth problems. Zinc is in high demand as it is involved in many enzymatic actions in the body, therefore levels can be easily depleted.
Although calcium has long been considered the most important mineral for bone health, its absorption is dependent on a range of factors, such as hormones and other mineral and acid levels. Without proper absorption, high calcium intake is irrelevant. This is why vitamin D is so important to bone health: It acts as the chief regulator of calcium absorption.
Research has found this fat-soluble vitamin increases absorption while also helping to build and restore bones.
Phosphorus is the second-most abundant mineral in the body, making up about one per cent of total human body weight. While phosphorus is essential for bone health, too much is undesirable as it must work in a delicate balance with calcium.
Instead of the more ideal ratio of about one part calcium to one part phosphorus, many people consume twice as much phosphorus than calcium. This high phosphorus-to-calcium ratio can be detrimental to bones.
Phosphorus is found in meat, soft drinks, and processed foods and should be avoided in high amounts.
As with calcium, most of the body’s reserves of magnesium are held in the bones (50 to 60 per cent). Overall, magnesium assures the strength and firmness of bones. This makes daily intake of magnesium important throughout life to maintain fortitude.
Magnesium and calcium work in close cooperation, meaning that a deficiency in one of these minerals markedly affects the metabolism of the other. Increasing calcium supplementation without increasing that of magnesium can actually spur magnesium loss. Similarly, the use of calcium supplements in the face of a magnesium deficiency can lead to calcium deposits in soft tissues.
Magnesium is also necessary for the conversion of vitamin D into its active form, and a deficiency of magnesium can lead to a condition known as vitamin D resistance.
The enzyme required for forming new calcium crystals, alkaline phosphatase, also requires magnesium for activation. Low levels can result in abnormal formation of bone crystals. Even mild magnesium deficiency is reported to be a leading risk factor for osteoporosis.
It is the synergistic work of vitamin D, along with these and many other minerals, that promotes healthy bones. For this reason, it is important not to increase one without considering all the others. Seeking advice from a qualified health practitioner is always recommended.
- BOK CHOY
This leafy green is a great source of calcium and a lean alternative to dairy. Also high in vitamin K and magnesium, bok choy is good at helping absorb calcium, making it more valuable to the body.
- BONE BROTH
There is no better way to consume the nutrients essential for our bones than to eat bone itself. Next best thing? Broth made from bones, which can be enjoyed on its own or added to dishes for extra flavour.
One of the richest sources of naturally occurring vitamin D, eggs are best eaten whole, as vitamin D is packed away in the yolk. Who knew breakfast was good for your bones as well as your brain?
Every serving of broccoli nourishes your bones. A good source of calcium that also provides a large dose of vitamin K, this cruciferous vege makes a perfect alternative to dairy.
- SESAME SEEDS
These little seeds are loaded with calcium as well as zinc, providing synergistic benefits to bone health. Their essential fatty acid content also ensures healthy cell communication, meaning optimal uptake of nutrients.
- SARDINES & SALMON
Avoiding tinned food is always preferred, but the odd can of sardines or salmon should be considered if you can’t get the real thing. That’s as long as all contents are consumed, including sardine bones – the best source of nutrients for your bones.