Our bones are continuously changing — we make new bone as old bone is broken down. Still, it's critical to build strong and healthy bones during childhood and adolescence. When we're young, our bodies make new bone faster than they can break down the old, so therefore bone mass increases. Most people reach their peak bone mass around age 30. After that, bone remodeling continues, but we start losing slightly more bone mass than we gain.
Calcium is the critical element in bone health, and it's being pulled in different directions. Calcium also is necessary for blood vessel constriction and relaxation, blood clotting, nerve function and hormone secretion (for example, insulin). These functions are so vital, the body will demineralize bone to maintain the optimum, albeit narrow, range of calcium concentration.
So a lot depends on how much bone mass is attained by age 30 and how rapidly it's lost after that. When bone remodeling becomes a net loss, osteoporosis sets in and bones weaken and become brittle. The higher the bone mass at our peak, the less likely we are to develop osteoporosis at a later age.
More women tend to get osteoporosis. Bone loss increases after menopause due to lower levels of estrogen. But men can get it too, especially after years of sedentary behavior. Race and family history also factor into poor bone health. Caucasians and Asians are particularly at risk, and those having a family member with osteoporosis are more susceptible, especially if there's a family history of fractures.
A diet high in calcium contributes to increased bone density, less bone loss, and a decreased risk of fractures. Dairy products like milk, low-fat cheese and yogurt, as well as almonds, canned salmon with bones, sardines and soy products, such as tofu, are good sources as are broccoli and kale.
For all adults 19-50 and men ages 51-70, the recommended daily amount of calcium is 1,000mg. For women after age 50 and men after age 70, the recommendation increases to 1,200mg a day. Vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, potassium, magnesium and phosphorous also contribute to better stores in the "bone bank," adds the National Institutes of Health's Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases Resource Center (www.niams.nih.gov).
Vitamin K2 has been used to treat osteoporosis and steroid-induced bone loss. Deficiencies of it are rare in adults (unless you have Celiac or Crohn's diseases). But the research is conflicting. "At this point, there's insufficient data to recommend using the vitamin for osteoporosis," the Mayo Clinic has concluded. But the Journal of Nutrition notes vitamin K2 is essential to calcium regulation.
Vitamin D3 helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamin supplements as well as oily fish, egg yolks and fortified milk are good sources of D3. Sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are somewhat helpful to treat pain and the loss of function associated with osteoarthritis in joints. Glucosamine usually is derived from the shells of shellfish. Chondroitin comes from cartilage, usually from shark and cow cartilage. Combined, they have been shown to rebuild human cartilage around joints, although the FDA has not allowed such a health claim. Some studies show chondroitin offers about an 8-10-percent joint mobility improvement, although it works slowly (three months or more).
"Natural joint health products need to respond to consumer demands if they're going to grow in the marketplace," states Barbara Davis, RD, vice president of medical & scientific affairs at PLT Health Solutions, (www.plthealth.com), Morristown, N.J. PLT produces Aqualox, a water-soluble version of its 5-Loxin Boswellia serrata extract, which has been clinically demonstrated to improve joint comfort and protect against cartilage degradation. Aqualox is available in taste-sensitive versions such as chewables, gummies, stick-packs and shots. "Fast action is important in encouraging consumers to buy into natural ingredients because they can feel the difference. Developing new delivery systems that meet consumer needs can encourage use and spur additional use," Davis says.
"Concerns about conditions related to aging weigh heavily on the minds of shoppers," says Hugh Welsh, president of DSM North America (www.dsm.com), Schenectady, N.Y. In May, DSM published the results of a survey that shows how consumer health concerns change throughout life. "Bone health, cancer, heart disease and stress worry shoppers in their 40s, 50s, and 60-plus," he says. "Strengthening bones and preventing osteoporosis with a nutrient-rich diet is on the rise. This is not surprising, given the aging U.S. population."