Fortifications and Minerals / Probiotics / Ingredient Trends / Ingredients and Formulation

How Nutrients Contribute to Bone Health

While calcium and vitamin D are effective at promoting bone health, new information proves nutrients like iron, vitamin K and C, probiotics and minerals also figure prominently.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

It's widely known calcium and vitamin D help build strong bones. Milk and yogurt provide the calcium and vitamin D needed to help slow bone breakdown and increase bone mineral density. But iron is another important nutrient associated with bone health.

skeletonAccording to Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, iron helps produce collagen, an integral component of bone. But Tufts warns that iron must be taken with the recommended 800-1200mg of calcium. And calcium absorption is dependent on vitamin D. Osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer may be due to improper iron metabolism in the body.

The International Osteoporosis Foundation ( predicts those over age 50 are at higher risk of bone fracture. Their numbers will exceed 300 million worldwide by 2040. According to the U.S. National Osteoporosis Foundation, 10 million Americans currently have osteoporosis and another 44 million who have low bone mineral density are at risk of it. Bone problems are also being diagnosed in younger people too, especially those who don't consume much dairy.

"The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that more than half of Americans age 50-plus have either osteoporosis or low bone mass," cites the National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine. "Osteoporosis is a rising public health concern, given the aging population and suboptimal dietary intakes of dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which provide a variety of essential nutrients that influence bone accretion and maintenance across the lifespan."

Banken MushroomsTo combat osteoporosis and bone fractures and to support vitamin D absorption, Banken Champignons ( received the green light from the European Food Safety Authority to market mushrooms that contain vitamin D. Mushrooms are a natural source of ergosterol, which is converted into vitamin D by the sun. Banken's mushrooms contain 10mg of vitamin D, equivalent to the recommended daily intake. The company's processing technology mimics the sun's conversion process in specially selected mushrooms that offer consumers a tasty product with health-promoting benefits.

A single serving of the new mushroom variant can make up a vitamin D deficiency, explains Jurgen Banken, director of Banken Champignons. "Vitamin D’s effects include boosting the immune system and producing strong bones and healthy teeth. With vitamin D mushrooms, anyone can make up a vitamin D deficiency in a tasty and healthy way," he says.

"Vitamin D’s effects include boosting the immune system and producing strong bones and healthy teeth. With vitamin D mushrooms, anyone can make up a vitamin D deficiency in a tasty and healthy way."

The other vitamins

There are more vitamins than D essential for bone health. "Dried plums are not only a source of dietary fiber, but a good source of potassium and vitamin K," say studies reported in the National Library of Medicine. "One serving of roughly four [prunes] provides 2.4g of dietary fiber, 280mg of potassium and 22.8µg of vitamin K."

The two main groups of vitamin K that occur naturally are vitamin K1 and K2. Different foods contain different kinds of vitamin K, and the body also gets some vitamin K from the bacteria normally living in the large intestine. A recommended dietary allowance (RDA) has not been established for vitamin K, but an adequate intake is considered to be 120μg /day for men aged 19+ and 90μg /day for women aged 19+.

Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, turnip greens, collards, parsley, romaine and green leaf lettuce; vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, prunes, kiwi, avocado, blackberries, figs, fish, liver, meat, eggs, and cereals.

Hand XRayThe International Osteoporosis Foundation says research supports the powers of vitamin K, a "forgotten" vitamin, as good for bone health. Recent studies indicate low levels of circulating vitamin K have been linked with low bone density, the IOF reports. "New evidence points toward the potential role of this vitamin in slowing down bone loss and bolstering bone strength after menopause in women and increasing bone strength and decreasing and/or limiting the risk of fractures in people suffering from osteoporosis."

Research shows there also are benefits provided by vitamin C in normal bone development and the formation of collagen, cartilage and other structures. Bone mineral is laid down over the collagen protein matrix. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, appears also to stimulate the bone-building cells, enhance calcium absorption, and enhance vitamin D's effect on bone metabolism. Collagen comprises about 30 percent of our bones, serving as a support structure for mineral deposits and giving bone its resilience, according to reports from the Center for Better Bones (

In addition, vitamin C assists in the formation of collagen and studies show it appears to stimulate the cells that build bone and enhance calcium absorption. The vitamin also helps with synthesizing and optimizing the functioning of adrenal steroid hormones, which play a vital role in bone health — especially for women during perimenopause and menopause, when production of these hormones slows, the center reports. Men are also affected by bone loss, which increases the risk for osteoporosis and consequently bone fractures, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. In 2020, it states, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population is estimated to suffer from low bone density.

Doctors at the Save Institute ( recommend a minimum of 500mg of vitamin C daily, either ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, or the ascorbate bound to other minerals to promote increased bone mass and lower fracture rates.

Probiotics, prebiotics and calcium absorption

More studies suggest probiotics not only promote a healthy microbiome, they may boost calcium absorption for support of healthy bones among preteens and post-menopausal women. Studies in animals and humans showed probiotics have a positive effect on bone metabolism and bone mass density. Most of the investigated bacteria were lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Postmenopausal women who suffer from low bone mass density benefit from consuming probiotics to increase the bioavailability of minerals, especially calcium.

Cottage cheese brand Muuna ( has added probiotics to its fruit-on-the-bottom cottage cheese line, possibly the first brand to combine B. lactis and 14-19g of protein in a portable snack. Launched in January 2018, the nine-flavor Muuna line is from a wholly owned subsidiary of Israel's Tnuva, which is owned by Chinese company Bright Food. "By adding probiotics, we can offer a single product also high in protein, low in sugar, and a good source of calcium and potassium," says CEO Gerard Meyer.

Among prebiotics, chicory root fiber (inulin) has been shown to increase the absorption of calcium and possibly magnesium. Only about 30 percent of ingested calcium is fully absorbed by the body, according to a recent white paper from Beneo ( Beneo says the bacterial fermentation of its chicory root fiber ingredients can increase the absorption capacity for calcium by extending the absorption capacity to the large intestine.

Beneo's oligofructose-enriched Inulin Orafti Synergy1, extracted from chicory root, supports calcium absorption, and has been found to be particularly efficient in enhancing the bioavailability of calcium in the diet.

The Accent fortification ingredients line from Delavau Food's ( features fortification technology that delivers as much calcium as a glass of milk, while it retains the right eating experience baked good formulators and marketers ask for, Delavau explains. It can also product developers with a clean-label claim for breads, muffins, tortillas, flatbread and other baked goods, as well as chocolate, compound coatings and inclusions for bread, confections, bars and snacks.

Mining for minerals

While vitamins do a great job of guarding against bone loss, minerals like magnesium are good for calcium absorption and therefore help support bone.

Calcium is only effective in preventing and treating osteoporosis if magnesium is present because magnesium keeps calcium dissolved in the blood, says Carolyn Dean, a medical doctor, naturopath and author. "Magnesium is necessary to convert vitamin D into its active form so that it can turn on calcium absorption. All the enzymes metabolizing vitamin D require magnesium as a necessary co-factor.

"When you take high doses of vitamin D and if you're already low in magnesium, the increased amount of metabolic work drains magnesium from its muscle storage sites," she continues. "That’s probably why muscles are the first to suffer magnesium deficiency symptoms — twitching, leg cramps, restless legs and Charlie horses."

Corbion ( supplies many of the minerals deemed important for bone health, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc. They’re bioavailable, the company says, and can be used in applications where good solubility is required.

Simone Bouman, who heads business development in food for Corbion's EMEA markets, says bone health has risen in importance rapidly in many western economies. "With improving healthcare, aging populations, changing dietary habits and more sedentary lifestyles, the numbers of people susceptible to, and suffering from, musculoskeletal conditions has grown dramatically since the middle of the last century," she says.

While supplements are often used, "Many people prefer to eat and drink everyday foods that are fortified," she adds. "This desire for simple but effective nutrition presents a major opportunity for food and beverage makers. "Increasing calcium[in food products] is an attractive strategy for brand owners looking to meet the rising demand for foods and drinks with multiple health benefits."