Healthy Bones? You Need More Than Just Calcium

Friday Apr 11 | BY |
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Healthy Bones

“Taking calcium carbonate, the most common form of calcium supplement,
is also not effective for increase bone density.”

New research shows that activities involving impact with the earth improve bone density, but bones have to be hard and flexible to absorb the impact.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that citrate, a naturally occurring chemical by-product of normal cell metabolism, when mixed with water, creates a gooey fluid that is trapped between the crystals that form our bones.

This citrate fluid “goo” allows bone cells to “slip and slide” together so they don’t shatter under pressure. In fact, moderate impact seems to strengthen bones. Is this earth-to-bone contact the key to strong bones?

Impact Exercises Improve Bone Density

According to Jonathan Tobias [] of the University of Bristol, activities that include impact with the ground, like running and jumping, may be the best way to stimulate bone remodeling, as well as to add density, which prevents osteoporosis. A recent study [] involving high-impact jumping exercises improved bone density in premenopausal women.

Bone Basics:

  • Collagen: the protein that gives bones a flexible framework
  • Calcium-phosphate mineral complexes: the minerals that make bones hard and strong
  • Citrate: makes the goo that cushions impact
  • Glucosamine: an amino sugar precursor to glycosylated proteins and lipids found in cartilage and bone

What Prevents Bones from Shattering?

Your bones are one of nature’s miracles. They have to be extremely hard to carry body weight. Holding up hundreds of pounds day after day and resisting gravity is no easy matter. What keeps your bones from shattering under all that pressure? It seems the key is citrate.

If citrate leaks, calcium phosphate crystals fuse together, making bones more brittle. Moderate impact activity and exercises, and a bone-healthy diet, make for stronger bones over a lifetime.

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The New View of Bone

Exercises for Strong Bones

Before I get into what makes for strong bones, it’s important to emphasize that too much sitting, especially during the teenage years when bones are becoming their strongest, retards bone density. The skeleton grows from birth to the end of the teen years, and bones reach maximum strength at about age thirty. Physical activity and nutrition are major factors in bone growth.

We used to believe that resistance training and weight-bearing exercises were the most effective way to increase bone density. Researchers now question this accepted wisdom. Termed high-impact, weight-bearing activities that involve impact with the earth make for healthy bones. It seems that the higher the impact, up to a point, the stronger your bones.

5 high-impact, weight-bearing exercises:

  1. Hiking
  2. Hopping or jumping rope
  3. Jogging
  4. Sprinting
  5. Stair climbing

Examples of moderate-impact, weight-bearing exercises:

  • Dancing
  • Aerobics
  • Hiking
  • Jogging
  • Stair climbing
  • Tennis

Though not as bone strengthening, low-impact exercises can also help keep bones healthy and are a safe alternative if you cannot do high-impact exercises:

  • Elliptical training machines
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Stair-step machines
  • Treadmill
  • Fast walking outside

Although great for cardiovascular fitness and heart-lung coordination, cycling, swimming, and cardio equipment that takes pressure off knees, as well as normal walking, don’t do much for bone density. Non-impact exercises, like yoga or tai chi, are not as effective at strengthening bone, but they promote flexibility and balance.

Bone Healthy Diet & Supplements—It’s Not Just About Calcium

Medical science used to think that bone mineralization was related to having enough hydroxyapatite. Vitamin companies urged consumers to buy calcium hydroxyapatite supplements made from bone meal. This never made clinical sense to me and was not supported by sufficient research.

Taking calcium carbonate, the most common form of calcium supplement, is also not effective for increase bone density. A wide range of nutrients is necessary to create healthy bones.

We know now that citrate goo or gel forms a nanoscopic layering effect between bone cells, making them exceptionally resilient. Without enough citrate, bone mineral structure would collapse. Vitamin D3 helps your body absorb calcium. Boron is a trace element that has an important influence on calcium and magnesium metabolism.

Bone tissue is also composed of a protein mess where calcium is deposited. The combination of citrate gel, calcium and phosphorous, and bone proteins creates dynamic bones that are flexible enough to resist breaking, but sufficiently rigid to prevent collapsing.

Top Bone Supplements:

  • Calcium citrate
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous
  • Vitamin D3
  • Bone remodeling proteins
  • Supportive trace minerals like boron

Foods for Healthy Bones

The single most calcium-rich food is milk. However, other foods are also good sources of calcium and minerals. Salmon and sardines that are canned with their bones are great calcium foods. Almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, tahini, and dried beans also have calcium.

Green leafy vegetables like collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and bok choy are good plant sources of calcium. However, be careful about when you eat calcium-rich plant foods. Certain fibers, such as wheat bran, and foods with oxalic acid, like spinach and rhubarb, can prevent your body from absorbing calcium. Cooking reduces the oxalic acid so the food is safe to consume, but over cooking leaches out calcium. Foods with too much phosphorous like sodas and red meat inhibit factors that make for healthy bones. Sugar depletes calcium and is considered a main cause of osteoporosis.

Plan your menu around low-acid eating. Include lots of vegetables, lots of seeds and nuts, and relatively low amounts of acid-producing animal protein, with moderate amounts of cereal grains.

Bone healthy, dairy and gluten-free dietary tips:

  • Eat moderate amounts of animal protein
  • Eat an alkaline diet
  • Eat more green leafy vegetables
  • Include seeds and nuts
  • Avoid sugar
  • Avoid high-phosphorus sodas

Taking it Home

Living bone is dynamic, incredibly strong, and has an amazing capacity for self-repair. To keep your bones healthy for a long time, you need to give them a little work. Incorporate high-impact, weight-bearing exercises to strengthen your bones.

Remember: exercise is best when done regularly, daily if possibly, and progressively. Start slow and gradually pick up the pace. Don’t overdo on weekends. Don’t push yourself too hard. Don’t try to accomplish improvement in two weeks over what took twenty years to degenerate. Be realistic, committed, and consistent. Eat a bone-healthy diet. Take your supplements. They work.

Disclaimer: If you have musculoskeletal health conditions, problems with balance, or bone health conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis, talk with your doctor before beginning any impact or weight-bearing activities.

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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