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5 surprising supplements for bone health

5 surprising supplements for bone health

Drink milk. Eat leafy vegetables. Take a calcium supplement. These age-old skeleton-saving techniques are getting an update. “We have known for a long time that calcium is critically important for bone health, but calcium won’t work all by itself,” says Robert Heaney, MD, a bone-biology researcher at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. Experts now say bone health relies on an array of nutrients, and as a result of new science and growing consumer demand, the category is blossoming.

According to Nutrition Business Journal, consumers spent $1.3 billion on bone-health supplements in 2007, up from $511 million a decade earlier. Some manufacturers are hearing the consumer calcium call and are rolling out more bone-health SKUs. Melville, N.Y.-based Nature’s Plus, for example, has 25 bone-health products including vanilla sundae-flavored chews for kids and liquid calcium for seniors. “We are going to see a lot more options out there,” says Marci Clow, a registered dietitian and senior director of product research for Santa Cruz, Calif.-based supplements company Rainbow Light.

Keep these up-and-coming bone-health supplements on customers’ radar.

Vitamin D3. “Vitamin D is the new calcium,” says Laurie Cullen, ND, associate professor of clinical education at Bastyr University in Seattle. A 2007 comprehensive review of 167 studies concluded that supplementation with D3, or cholecalciferol, in addition to calcium decreases risk of falls, fractures and bone loss in people over age 62. What’s more, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently upped its recommendations for children to 400 IU of vitamin D daily, so retailers should brace for more parents seeking D supplements—and an onslaught of new products.

Vitamin K2. K2 has been lauded not only for helping usher calcium into bones, but also for preventing it from depositing in arteries, where it can promote heart disease. A study of 55 adolescents, published in the British Journal of Nutrition in May, found that those who took 45 micrograms of K2 for eight weeks produced more of the protein needed to bind calcium to bone scaffolding. Most research on K2, including the above study, has been conducted on menaquinone-7, a soy-based K2 ingredient made by NattoPharma and used by Rainbow Light, Jarrow and Garden of Life, among others.

Strontium. This trace mineral was used as a bone-health supplement in the 1950s, but it fell out of favor after a specific form was found to be radioactive. Recently, a safer form called strontium renelate has been showing promising results for preventing bone loss and actually building bone.

According to a 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, women with osteoporosis who supplemented with 2 grams of strontium renelate—equivalent to 680 milligrams of elemental strontium—daily for three years experienced half the fracture risk in the first year than women taking a placebo; in fact, bone density actually improved in the strontium renelate group.

This fall, West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Garden of Life launched a two-product kit called the Vitamin Code Grow Bone System, featuring raw, vegan, organic calcium plus strontium renelate. Consumers take raw calcium with breakfast and lunch and a 680 milligram dose of strontium renelate at night. Retail price: $54.95. “With other products, you can slow bone loss, but we are actually offering a product that can help build bone mineral density. That’s huge,” says Dawn Jarvis, licensed nutritionist and director of education for the supplements manufacturer.

A new notion on calcium

Calcium, the head honcho of bone-health supplements, not only builds bones and teeth, but also helps blood clot, nerves talk to each other and muscles contract.

During childhood, bones absorb calcium and other nutrients, fueling growth. The more calcium bones absorb, the better they fare when they stop growing, between ages 30 to 35. If you don’t get enough calcium from your diet to fuel bodily functions, your body borrows it from your bones. So by age 40, bone mass starts to deteriorate by as much as 1 percent per year. Due to the loss of bone-protecting estrogen, postmenopausal women experience even greater deterioration.

Unfortunately, due to its bulk, the daily recommended dose of calcium often doesn’t fit into a one-a-day multivitamin; most include only a fraction of the recommended 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams. Calcium carbonate (primarily from limestone) relies on stomach acid to break down, so it must be taken with food, and it often comes in large, chalky pills that can cause constipation. But calcium citrate (made with citric acid) can be taken any time of day. Studies conflict over which form absorbs better. To play it safe, Laurie Cullen, ND, recommends that older people—whose stomachs produce less acid—take calcium citrate. –L.M.

Lisa Marshall is a freelance health writer and mother of four who lives in Lyons, Colo.

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