Prescription medications can help you build stronger bones when you have osteoporosis. But you also need vitamins and minerals from your diet to help your body better absorb key nutrients to build strong bones. Sometimes diet restrictions, appetite loss, digestive disorders, or other factors can affect your ability to get the variety of nutrients you need. In this case, supplements and vitamins may be a way to enhance your dietary intake.
When you have osteoporosis, your body lacks several key nutrients or can’t use those nutrients properly to keep your bones strong and healthy.
Calcium is likely one of the most important supplements you can take when you have osteoporosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, women age 51 and older should take in at least 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day, but not more than 2,000 mg.
Ideally, you’ll get enough in your diet. However, if you don’t, supplements can help. While there are many calcium supplements available, your body doesn’t absorb all calcium supplements the same way. For example, chelated calcium like calcium citrate, calcium lactate, or calcium gluconate are all easier for your body to absorb. Chelated means compounds are added to a supplement to improve its absorption. Calcium carbonate is usually the most inexpensive and contains 40 percent elemental calcium.
Your body isn’t physically able to absorb more than 500 mg of calcium at a time. Therefore, you should likely break up your supplement intake over the course of a day. Taking the supplements with food can also enhance their absorption.
As with calcium, it’s important you get enough vitamin D if you have osteoporosis. This is because vitamin D is essential for helping your body absorb calcium and build strong bones. However, it’s not naturally present in many foods.
Sun exposure causes your body to make vitamin D, but sometimes the seasons don’t permit your body to make enough.
Adults older than age 50 should take between 800 and 1,000 international units, or IUs, of vitamin D a day. Both vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 are available in supplement form. Many doctors recommend vitamin D3, but both supplement types can benefit bones.
Magnesium is a mineral naturally found in foods like whole-grain breads, dark green vegetables, and nuts. Magnesium and calcium work together closely to maintain strong bones. The recommended daily amount of magnesium is 300 to 500 mg. However, if you eat a lot of processed foods, you likely don’t get enough magnesium in your daily diet.
While it’s possible to get a magnesium supplement, magnesium is often incorporated into a daily multivitamin. An ideal balance is two parts calcium to one part magnesium. If your multivitamin has 1,000 mg of calcium, it should have 500 mg of magnesium.
Watch for signs of excess magnesium, such as stomach upset and diarrhea. These symptoms indicate you should cut back on magnesium.
Vitamin K is a vitamin that helps calcium bind to your bones. However, it’s important to strike a careful balance between enough and too much vitamin K. The recommended dosage is 150 micrograms each day.
Taking vitamin K can interfere with blood-thinning medications such as warfarin (Coumadin). Always talk to your physician before increasing your vitamin K intake.
Boron is a trace element, which means that your body doesn’t need large amounts of it. Yet it’s important because it enables your body to effectively use calcium. As well, boron has properties that aid in the treatment of osteoporosis by activating vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy bone formation.
You need between 3 and 5 mg of boron a day to help treat osteoporosis. It’s found naturally in foods like apples, grapes, nuts, peaches, and pears.
Boron isn’t commonly found in multivitamins. Ask your doctor if you’d benefit from taking a boron supplement. If you do take one, watch for potential side effects of excess intake, such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and diarrhea.
Silicon is another trace mineral that’s important for the development of healthy bones, as well as tendons and ligaments. Taking an estimated 25 to 50 mg of silicon a day may help a woman with osteoporosis.
Like boron, silicon isn’t commonly found in multivitamins. Again, ask your doctor if you should add silicon to your daily supplements list.
Some women choose not to take or are unable to take prescription hormone treatments for osteoporosis. Alternative treatments include Chinese herbs and other supplements. The problem with many of these treatments is they aren’t widely studied, and their full effects are unknown.
According to an article published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, a combination of three herbs was studied for its effect on postmenopausal women: Herba epimedii, Fructus ligustri lucidi, and Fructus psoraleae were given in a ratio of 10:8:2. This formula, known as ELP, resulted in bone-protective effects in postmenopausal women. The herbs used are reported to have estrogen-like effects.
Other herbs that may have effects in treating osteoporosis include black cohosh and horsetail. The effect of both of these herbs on osteoporosis hasn’t been well studied.
Who should take supplements
If you’re able to eat a healthy diet full of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, you may get enough of the nutrients you need in your daily diet. However, when you have osteoporosis, your doctor will likely recommend supplementing your daily diet.
Other reasons you may need calcium supplements:
- You eat a vegan diet.
- You’re lactose intolerant.
- You’re taking corticosteroid medications on a long-term basis.
- You have a digestive disease that may impact your body’s ability to absorb calcium, such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease.
If you have kidney or parathyroid disease, you may not be able to take vitamins or supplements. These two conditions may affect your body’s ability to filter calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients. That’s why it’s important to always talk to your doctor before taking anything not prescribed to you.
Researchers don’t all agree there are benefits to taking vitamins and supplements, including calcium and vitamin D. Some indicate the vitamins don’t help. Others think excess calcium supplementation could cause calcification of your arteries, which may contribute to heart disease.
However, if you have osteoporosis, this suggests that you have a deficiency in calcium or vitamin D and could potentially benefit from supplements.
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, for women age 65 and older or who are at increased risk for falls, taking vitamin D supplements can be effective in reducing risk for falls and for bone breakage.