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.

Image 1

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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  1. June Hanson says:

    Such a great article. I do weight bearing exercises in the pool. some times high impact jumping jacks, then low impact ones. Also water walking, cross country skiing, all the while feet touching bottom of pool. Resistance of water, makes it easier on joi
    nts, preventing injuries, or overheating, especially in warm weather. Also water weights, while walking, accomplishes so much more, without exhaustion.

    Need to get your recommended Osteobalance, as I am now taking Albion Chelated Calcium glycinate. Should, always listen to you Doctor, as I am one of your devoted patients!

  2. Pat Porter says:

    Silica is important. Horsetail herb is richest source.

  3. Natalie says:

    What about bone-building exercises for arms, since you don’t jog with your arms!

  4. suzanne says:

    I applaud all the exercise you are doing. But I would like Dr. Williams to address your thinking that those pool exercises (pool walking, weights, etc.) are making your bones dense. He writes, one has to make impact with the earth and I would think that means without water’s buoyancy. Am I missing something anyone?

  5. Jackie says:

    I appreciate this information. Have a couple of questions.

    1) Why would hiking be considered high impact while walking is low impact? Seems when hiking, people ARE just walking.

    2) what does “citrate leaking” mean?

    3) Is Swiss chard high in calcium? I thought it was right up there with kale.

    4) If jumping is considered high impact, why would high impact aerobics be medium impact?

    And. . . # 5) What IS the best type and brand of calcium to take? along with which type of magnesium to take? So much information out there it can be quite confusing.

    Thanks very much for this article. – Jackie

  6. Lynsi says:

    What about rebounding? Especially for much older (60s,70s) post-menopausal women fighting osteoporosis? And what about Strontium; any info on that?

  7. Jean Crook says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I will be 74years old in July of this year. And believe me, this information is most useful to someone in my age bracket. Better yet, parents, start your children out now.

    Grandma Jean

  8. Emanuel says:

    Hi JE,

    Why do you not include Strontium as being a mineral that contributes greatly to the strength and resilience of bones. Why only discuss collagen as a single item when they come in at least 3 differing forms. Why make no mention of the destructive impact of fluoride, statins, and B blockers on bone metabolism, the synthetic hormones. which most people now ingest’ I call this chemical warfare on the masses..
    When important factors are omitted from any discussion and research it makes the whole science null and void.
    There is so much poor quality science and misinformation being disseminated that one is obliged to dismiss it as a product of a fool regurgitating the same medical nonsense that previous idiots or liars have gotten away with, with out any one pulling them up over it. God help us.? lets face it, present day scientists wont or can’t.


  9. Mike says:

    What about vitamin K2 and a good Fish Oil with the Calcium and D3?
    I’ve been on thyroid hormone for 28 years (thyroid was removed 1986) after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
    I was told to take 1800 mg of calcium every day, was not told how to take it and what to take it with so I ended up with calcium deposits in my joints very painful and a very bad bone density result.
    Now I am taking food base calcium and magnesium +3000 D3 +vitamin K 2+ salmon oil.
    I am going for another bone density test and I’m hoping for better results. What are your thoughts on this?

  10. Bernie says:

    You state, “the most calcium rich food is milk” I’ve read that the calcium in milk is not all that available available to us.
    Does pasteurization and homogenization make the calcium even more unavailable? I’ve also heard that in the case of cow’s milk, this is for calves not adult humans.
    I would be very interested in your comments.

    • Rhonda says:

      I am in agreement with you Bernie that milk is not the perfect calcium food except for baby calves. Our own mother’s milk helped us to get our first nutrients as a baby and so is cows milk for cows. It is a well known fact that milk must be pasteurized to cook out the pathogens and then a low form of calcium is added to the milk.

      Calcium is in the dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, chards which is where the cows are suppose to get their calcium from (but most don’t. They are fed corn, soy and fats). Tofu and sesame seeds are very high in calcium according to the World’s Healthiest Foods site:

      Weight lifting was not mentioned on the list of activities to help build bones. but it is touted as a good form of exercise to help strengthen bones. According to In Prescription Alternatives, Professor Earl Mindell and Virginia Hopkins detail these findings: “In a recent study on bone density and exercise, older women who did high-intensity weight training two days per week for a year were able to increase their bone density by one percent” quoted in

  11. I have enjoyed reading your article on bone strengthening. Yet reading the recommending exercises or activities for the bone stimulation leaves me puzzled why all of them are focused on lower extremities as we would have no other bones. How do you strengthen your arms, shoulders etc? How do you strengthen you back and skull bones? I do not think that sprinting or hiking would matter at all. On the other hand some of yoga or Shaolin temple practices should help. For example Chinese recommend their kung fu fighters to stand on their head about an hour per day while in yoga you will find a famous asana called Sirshasana or head stand. I heard that some yogis stand even up to 3 hrs per day on their heads. That way not only the skull bones get strengthened by holding the whole bodyweight but also the upper vertebrae. It takes some time to get the effect but Chinese claim that if you have stood on your head for an hours every day for a year, your head bones and your head is 4 times stronger than another fighters head. Such quality may give one fighter quite an adventage over the other. I have not heard about research done on yogis heads but would assume a similar effect when they stand up to 3 hrs per day. For yogis the goal is not strengthening their bones but rather slowing down their metabolizm, including slower heartbeat and breathing; also rejuvenating their inner organs. What could we do to strengthen our upper extremities and the lower back? Perhaps walking on our hands/arms but only few people would have a chance at this exerecise. So what one should do? Well, yogis again developed over 5000 years an amazing set of sequenced asanas called Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutations). Actually it comes from pre Vedic times and has been incorporated in to yoga routine rather recently. It has myriads of applications including the bone strenthening all over the body – why ? because it uses just about all body muscles in various natural body postures. Unfortunately the space for my comment will not allow to go in to full argument but all interested can find books on the subject of this ancient fitness system. The time has tested its usefullness. There are many ways of practicing Suryanamaskar but for the impatient West perhaps the fastes way to achieve the benefits is through Dynamic Suryanamaskar, which is performed about 4-5 times faster than normal speed of doing it. One can do several hundred Suryanamaskars in 30 minutes, (In XVII century Saint Ramdas was doing 1200 Suryanamaskars daily; he coached king Shivaji in that technique and later it was used to train Maratha freedom fighters, who won many battles with much larger Moguls army). it will not only be a great cardio- but also will massage all your internal organs, develop your lungs and chest, develop your body flexibility and strength, and finally develop the strength of your bones. This exercise appears far superior to walking, hiking, swimming, running, biking, horse riding etc, etc and I would encourage all unbelievers to try it for a while.

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