Crafted from a complex matrix of protein, calcium and other trace minerals, our bones protect and propel our bodies through the maze of life. The 206 bones in our body hinge to allow us to move, anchor muscles that give our movements strength and even produce blood cells. As strong as they are, bones are not a static structure. Our bones are constantly regenerating and require both nutrients and a favourable metabolic state to ensure that vital bone tissue is not lost. Unfortunately, bones bear the brunt of our bad habits: inactivity, stress and a poor diet wreak havoc on our skeletons and we typically pay little mind until they finally crack under the pressure.
Many of us are well aware of the role calcium plays in the health of our bones, but are we also aware of the fact that we could be getting too much of a good thing? Our bodies are not designed to absorb huge quantities of calcium at one time, so supplements should be limited to 500mg per dose. Most adults don’t need more than 1,000mg of calcium a day, and taking excess calcium may actually harm our health. Overloading on calcium, particularly supplemental forms, has been linked to negative health outcomes such as prostate cancer, constipation and kidney stones. What we should consider instead is getting calcium from food sources: sesame seeds, almonds, calcium-set tofu, salmon canned with its bones, green leafy veggies and even fennel all contain highly bioavailable calcium. In fact, the calcium from vegetarian sources is more bioavailable than calcium from dairy—although dairy contains much greater quantities of the mineral.
Vital to our bodies’ absorption of calcium is vitamin D. It can be considered a key that unlocks the doorway for calcium to enter our bones. Without adequate vitamin D levels, all that calcium is wasted. Osteoporosis Canada recommends up to 1,000IU of vitamin D3 for adults under 50 and up to 2,000IU for those over 50. However, for those of us concerned about vitamin D deficiency, these recommended amounts may not be enough to bring our stores up to sufficient levels. Healthcare practitioners can test our vitamin D levels and can work with higher doses to safely raise the amount stored in the blood.
Bone-building nutrients aside, other factors also contribute to making our bodies bone-friendly. A high-sodium diet, consisting mainly of processed and restaurant foods, has been linked to bone loss. Chronic inflammation, a condition that exists due to a host of dietary choices and even high-stress lifestyles, further promotes the breakdown of bone tissues. Furthermore, we should all be taking measures to manage stress through deep breathing and meditation exercises and plenty of social connections. Exercise is also a great stress buster and weight-bearing exercise (jogging, weight lifting, dancing, etc.) is critical for supporting bone health. Finally, we should remember to get that calcium and vitamin D in the context of a healthy diet, which includes plenty of fresh produce and minimizes high-sodium, inflammationpromoting processed foods.