New studies are shedding light on the complex metabolic functions involved in bone health. Years ago, scientists confirmed that calcium and vitamin D were critical to the formation of healthy bone. Later, other important minerals like phosphorus and magnesium were found to contribute to bone building in the body.
Now, science has added new knowledge to the bone health puzzle and the picture appears complete. Recently released data on a special form of vitamin K, called menaquinone-7 (MK7), shows it has uniquely effective and quite astounding benefits on bone metabolism and bone growth.
But before we detail this exciting discovery, let’s look at how we got to become a nation facing an epidemic of osteoporosis.
The typical American diet promotes osteoporosis
Americans are notorious for consuming large amounts of processed foods, soft drinks, coffee and foods that are high in sodium and sugar. These foods promote osteoporosis by stripping the bones of the calcium they need to stay strong.
Here are some interesting food facts included in Susan Brown’s book Better Bones, Better Body that will hopefully make you think twice the next time you reach for a six-pack of soda pop, bag of cookies or cup of coffee:
- In the past 100 years, our sugar intake has increased over 1,000 times! Evidence shows that high sugar intake contributes to a wide range of degenerative diseases, including diabetes, arthritis, tooth decay, heart disease, and osteoporosis12
- When sugar is combined with caffeine, as in coffee or soft drinks, even more calcium is excreted3
- Sugar consumption stimulates the stomach’s production of hydrochloric acid—This adds to the overall acidic imbalance of the body, which is a contributing factor to bone loss4
- High salt intake causes the body to excrete calcium in the urine, thus contributing to osteoporosis in both the young and old567
- An Australian study found that hip bone loss could be halted in women 10 years or more past menopause, by either lowering urine sodium excretion to 2,110 mg a day or by increasing calcium intake to 1,768 mg per day8
- Caffeine consumption has been found to lower blood calcium and increase parathyroid hormone, both of which signals the body to draw calcium from the bones9—In fact women who drink four cups of coffee a day triple the risk of hip fracture, compared to women who rarely drink coffee1011
Osteoporosis kills women and men
As you can see, dietary habits contribute greatly to the osteoporosis epidemic currently sweeping America. And while it is a well known fact that one out of two women older than age 50 suffers an osteoporosis-related fracture during her lifetime, what’s not as well known is that osteoporosis affects about two million men, and another three million men are at risk.
It is estimated that one in eight men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in his lifetime. In fact, each year men suffer one third of all the hip fractures that occur, and one third of these men will not survive more than a year. In addition to hip fractures, men also experience painful and debilitating fractures of the spine, wrist, and other bones due to osteoporosis. And older men suffer many more rib fractures than elderly women.12
The good news is that osteoporosis is preventable … and even after bone mass density is lost, the condition can be reversed through exercise and by adding certain minerals and nutrients. Cultivating good eating and exercise habits, and supplementing your diet with a bone-supporting dietary supplement can make all the difference.
What causes osteoporosis?
In the human body, there is a constant process of breaking down and remaking of bones. Cross-cultural studies show that, throughout the world, most people lose bone mass as they age.13 After age 40 to 50, men lose 20 to 30 percent of their total bone mass, and women lose as much as 40 to 50 percent.14 Generally, though, the remaining bone is healthy and able to repair itself. This is considered normal aging. When the rate of bone breakdown exceeds that of bone being manufactured, it can result in osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis means “porous bones,” and is used to describe any disease that reduces bone mass, and results in fragile, thin bones, loss of height, lower back, wrist and spine fractures, or dowager’s hump (forward bending of the spine in the upper back). We may notice that our grandparents and our parents are not as tall as they used to be, and eventually we may lose an inch or two ourselves. This is abnormal aging, and according to Susan Brown (Better Bones, Better Body) the major culprit of bone loss mass stems from a lifetime of poor dietary and exercise habits.
Your bones provide structural support for muscles, protect vital organs, and store the calcium essential for bone density and strength. Give them the nutrients they need to serve you throughout your life.
Why is supplementation important?
Many of us—young and old—suffer from calcium deficiency in our diets. This may show up as arm and leg muscle spasms, back and leg cramps, poor growth, osteoporosis, tooth decay, or depression. Calcium deficiency is most prevalent in women who have had children and have never supplemented their own diets with calcium. Experts believe that 33 percent of all women will develop osteoporosis severe enough to cause a broken bone.
Most nutrition experts agree that food is our best source of vitamins and minerals. But, because of our hectic lifestyles, it’s almost impossible to rely on food for all the nutrition our bodies need to stay healthy and strong. Research has shown that, due to a steady decline in the nutritional quality of our food, even an adequate diet might not enable us to maintain the vitamin and mineral balance required to avoid related health problems.
What should you take?
Doctors recommend getting 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium in your diet daily. Most Americans don’t even come close. Unless you’re eating plenty of calcium-rich foods and vegetables, chances are you’re not getting this amount from your diet, and are inadvertently suffering from a calcium deficiency.
What’s the best form of calcium?
Recently, calcium from chicken eggshell was shown to be superior for building bone mass when compared to calcium carbonate. Eggshell calcium is low in heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury and aluminum. It is also a good source of strontium, a rare mineral, which, along with calcium, plays a vital role in bone health.
Several Dutch studies have shown that chicken eggshell powder has a beneficial effect on bone density in people with osteoporosis and osteopenia (bone thinning). A study published in March, 2002 indicates that healthy late post-menopausal women, who had been getting adequate calcium to begin with, increased their bone mass density of the hip within 12 months of supplementation with a chicken eggshell powder-enriched calcium supplement. The group of women who received a placebo lost bone mass density.15
An earlier 1999 pilot study indicated that a chicken eggshell-powder enriched dairy-based supplement increased the bone mass density in participants who had osteoporosis or osteopenia. Over a period of four months, the group took a supplement containing eggshell powder, vitamin D, and magnesium. Within the four to eight month period, all participants experienced a significant increase in bone mass in the lumbar spine, femur and trochanter (lower leg), and within a period of four months, the participants reported a reduction in pain and a general improvement in how they felt. The women in the control group, however, experienced a significant decrease in bone mass density over the same eight-month period. The study concluded that the supplement helped build up bone mass in the short term, and as a consequence delays bone demineralization over a longer period.16
But calcium alone isn’t enough—You need to combine it with other proven nutrients to help your body absorb and assimilate the calcium
Supplement your diet with nutrients to make sure you’re getting the daily-required minimum of calcium in order to slow down bone loss. And start early. Whether you’re in your teens or 70s, man or woman, now is the time to increase your calcium intake and aid your body in building and maintaining healthy bone mass.
The key is to take a superior form of calcium with added minerals and vitamins
For calcium to actually strengthen bone it must be consumed along with several other nutrients. Phosphorus is particularly important, and magnesium, boron, and vitamins D and K are also needed for bone metabolism. Also, daidzein, a compound found in soy and other legumes, has been shown to stimulate bone formation and mineralization.
- Vitamin D plays a pivotal role in bone building, allowing the body to absorb calcium, and for maintaining the proper balance of calcium and phosphorus. You could take calcium all day long, and if you are not getting the proper amount of vitamin D with your calcium, you will not be able to absorb it properly. Vitamin D can be formed in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. It is also added to milk. However, many people do not produce enough vitamin D or get enough from food. Vitamin D deficiency can be a problem for older people and those who are homebound or bed-ridden.
- Vitamin K has recently been identified as an important nutrient in bone health. According to Sarah Booth, at the Vitamin K Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston,vitamin K activates at least three proteins involved in bone health. Several studies have indicated that low vitamin K levels are associated with risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures, and that supplementation with vitamin K increases bone mass and mineralization of the bone matrix.171819
In particular, supplementation with menaquinone-7 (MK7), a long chain vitamin K2 molecule, has been shown to protect against osteoporosis and reduce the risk of bone fractures. Furthermore, when combined with vitamin D, the MK7 form of vitamin K2 has actually been shown to promote bone growth. It does this by increasing the production of osteocalcin in osteoblasts, which allows calcium to anchor to bone and thus build bone. It also inhibits the production of osteoclasts, which break down bone.20
- Boron is important in preventing calcium loss, as it improves calcium absorption and reduces the amount of calcium excreted in the urine.
- Phosphorus is the second most prevalent mineral in bones and makes up more than half the mass of bone mineral. Thus, the diet needs to have sufficient phosphorus in order to have healthy bones. Inadequate levels of phosphorus in the diet may be more widespread than previously thought, especially in the elderly and in people who eat little meat.
Researchers recently completed a detailed study on the co-dependence of calcium and phosphorus on growth and bone development, which they presented at the National Osteoporosis Foundation Fifth International Symposium. The presentation detailed how bone disease can develop when calcium and phosphorus are not balanced and within good levels. When phosphorus is too high, the body takes calcium out of the bones to bind with the phosphorus and remove it from the blood. Bones become brittle as a result.
The balance of calcium and phosphorus can especially impact women over 60, whose diets often contain less than the recommended dietary allowance of 1,000 mg of phosphorus. According to one of the researchers, Dr. Heaney, a scientist at Creighton University’s Osteoporosis Research Center, “For these women, the usual calcium supplement, calcium carbonate, may block most of the absorption of phosphorus. If this happens, the calcium won’t do much good because bone mineral consists of both calcium and phosphorus.”
Another presenter, Dr. Shapiro of Product Safety Laboratories in Dayton, New Hampshire said, “Both calcium and phosphorus are needed to support an increase in bone mass. If the diet is low in phosphorus, calcium supplementation alone will be inadequate, and may aggravate a phosphorus deficiency. A phosphorus-containing calcium source would seem to be preferable to one providing calcium alone.”21
So not only is it important that a bone-building supplement contain eggshell calcium that enhances calcium absorption, but it should also contain phosphorus.
- Magnesium is essential for proper calcium absorption and is an important mineral in the bone matrix. It has specific effects on the parathyroid hormone, which helps regulate proper calcium metabolism.
- Daidzein is an isoflavonoid found in soy. Soy has become very popular for promoting women’s health due to its phytoestrogenic activity. Soy contains two phytoestrogen compounds, daidzein and genestein. Genestein has become a very popular supplement and has been promoted for the benefits of soy in a concentrated capsule. However, genestein has recently raised concerns over its potential negative effects on immune function, brain function, and DNA repair. Daidzein doesn’t share these negative effects, and is more effective than genestein at maintaining bone health.
How do hormones affect bone health?
Hormones play an important role in maintaining bone mass. Once women reach menopause and hormone levels decline, bone loss escalates. Rapid bone loss continues for about five years during menopause, and can reach three to four percent of total bone mass. This surge of bone loss eventually tapers off after a few years, and is about equal to the amount of bone loss in men of the same age. But the loss of bone minerals continues throughout the rest of a person’s life—which is one of the reasons there is a lot of excitement about research into daidzein’s ability to help stimulate bone formation and mineralization in the same way that hormones do.
Animal experiments as well as bone-tissue and bone-cell-culture investigations have demonstrated daidzein’s effect on bone metabolism. Also, daidzein has been shown to enhance bone formation, and help prevent and treat osteoporosis in elderly women.22232425
Progesterone promotes bone health
There’s been a lot of discussion about the controversy of hormone replacement therapy. Yet, natural progesterone has been proven time and time again to be safe and effective for promoting bone health and balancing problems associated with estrogen dominance.
Osteoblasts, the bone-building cells, contain progesterone receptors and this hormone appears to directly encourage bone building. Also, during the reproductive years, progesterone works with estrogen to conserve calcium within the body and limit the withdrawal of calcium from the bones.26
In 1991, when Dr. Jerilynn Prior of British Colombia was studying young women athletes, she inadvertently discovered that many of these seemingly normal and healthy athletes had abnormal menstrual periods and were not ovulating. Why? Because they all suffered from a progesterone deficiency. The hormone deficiency was also linked to excessive bone loss. Progesterone supplementation alleviated the menstrual irregularities and corrected the excessive bone loss.27
For more than 20 years, the late Dr. John Lee had successfully used natural progesterone supplements for reversing excessive bone loss and preventing new fractures in women with osteoporosis. Interestingly, Dr. Lee said that natural progesterone builds bone with or without estrogen therapy. In cases of severe osteoporosis, Dr Lee found that natural progesterone could increase bone density within six months. Many of the women in his study added natural progesterone to their estrogen therapy, but others dropped the estrogen and utilized only natural progesterone. His research clearly shows that natural progesterone replacement leads to new bone formation, actively increasing bone mass and density.28
And don’t forget weight-bearing exercise
Weight-bearing activity—along with supplementation—is the last piece of the puzzle when it comes to bone health. First, weight-bearing exercise helps to stimulate bone formation. Second, it strengthens the surrounding muscles that in turn pull or tug on bones. This action keeps bones strong. And third, physical activity improves your strength, balance, and coordination—all of which help reduce your risk of falls and bone injuries.
The benefits of weight-bearing exercise on bone health are site-specific. This means that you strengthen only the bones used directly in the exercise. Therefore, it’s a good idea to participate in a variety of weight-bearing exercises. To maintain the bone-building benefits, exercise should be continued on a regular basis.
What about exercise when I’m older?
Weight-bearing activities at any age benefit bone health. Physical activity strengthens bones in children, teens, men and women, and even adults 90 years of age and older.
So play it safe. Think of your bones as a savings account. There is only as much bone mass in your account as you deposit, so you want to build as much bone in your early years as possible.
And start now! Whether you’re in your teens or 70s, man or woman, now is the time to increase your calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2 intake and aid your body in building and maintaining healthy bone mass.
- Cleave, T. and G. Campbell, Diabetes, Coronary Thrombosis and the Saccharine Disease, Bristol: John Wright & Sons, 1969.
- Appleton, Nancy, “How Sweet It Is or Isn’t,” Townsend Letter for Doctors, June 1992: 497-499.
- Holl, M.G., and L.H. Allen, “Sucrose ingestion insulin response, and mineral metabolism in humans,” J Nutr 117.7, 1987: 1229-33.
- Brown, Susan E., Better Bones, Better Body. Keats Publishing, Inc., New Canaan, CT. 1996: 129.
- Matkovic, et al., ‘Urinary Calcium, Sodium and bone Mass of Young Females,” Am J Clin Nutr 62, 1995: 417-425.
- Zaarkadas, M., “Sodium chloride supplementation and urinary calcium excretion in postmenopausal women,” J Clin Nutr 50.5, 1989: 1088-94.
- Goulding, A., “Osteoporosis: Why consuming less sodium chloride helps to conserve bone,” NZ Med J 103, 1990: 120-2.
- Devine, Amanda, et al., “A Longitudinal Study of the Effect of Sodium and Calcium Intake on Regional Bone Density in Postmenopausal Women,” Am J Clin Nutr 62, 1995: 740-5.
- Massey, L. and P. Hollingbery, “Acute Effects of Dietary Caffeine and Sucrose on Urinary Mineral Excretion of Healthy Adolescents,” Nutr Res 8, 1988: 1005-1012.
- Massey, L., and T. Berg, “The Effect of Dietary Caffeine on Urinary Excretion of Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Sodium, Potassium, chloride and Zinc in Healthy Males,” Nutr Res 5, 1985: 1281-1284.
- Hernandez-Avila, Mauricio, et al., “Caffeine, moderate alcohol intake, and risk of fractures of the hip and forearm in middle-aged women,” Am J Clin Nutr 54, 1991: 157-63.
- Seeman, E., et al., “Risk Factors for Spinal Osteoporosis in Men,” Am J Med 75 1983: 977-983.
- Frost, H., “The Pathomechanics of Osteoporosis,” Clin Orthop 200, 1985: 198-225.
- Fauci, Anthony S., et al. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, Vol. 2. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
- Schaafsma A, van Doormaal JJ, Muskiet FA, Hofstede GJ, Pakan I, van der Veer E. Positive effects of a chicken eggshell powder-enriched vitamin-mineral supplement on femoral neck bone mineral density in healthy late post-menopausal Dutch women. Br J Nutr 2002 Mar;87(3):267-75.
- Schaafsma A, Pakan I. Short-term effects of a chicken eggshell powder enriched dairy-based products on bone mineral density in persons with osteoporosis or osteopenia. Bratisl Lek Listy,1999 Dec;100(12):651-6.
- Price PA. Vitamin K nutrition and postmenopausal osteoporosis. J Clin Invest 91(4):1268, 1993. Douglas AS et al. Carboxylation of osteocalcin in post-menopausal osteoporotic women following vitamin K and D supplementation. Bone 17(1)15-20, 1995.
- Vermeer C et al. Effects of vitamin K on bone mass and bone metabolism. J Nutr 126(4 Suppl):1187S-91S, 1996.
- Kaneki M, Mizuno Y, Hosoi T, Inoue S, Hoshino S, Akishita M, Akedo Y, Horiki K, Nakamura T, Shiraki M, et al. Serum concentration of vitamin K in elderly women with involutional osteoporosis [Article in Japanese] Nippon Ronen Igakkai Zasshi 1995 Mar;32(3):195-200.
- Plaza SM, Lamson DW. Vitamin K2 in bone metabolism and osteoporosis. Altern Med Rev. 2005 Mar; 10(1):24-35. Yamaguchi M, Sugimoto E, Hachiya S. Stimulatory effect of menaquinone-7 (vitamin K2) on osteoblastic bone formation in vitro. Mol Cell Biochem. 2001 Jul;223 (1-2):131-7. Yamaguchi M, Uchiyama S, Tsukamoto Y. Inhibitory effect of menaquinone-7 (vitamin K2) on the bone-resorbing factors-induced bone resorption in elderly female rat femoral tissues in vitro. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003 Mar;245(1-2):115-20.
- Sukmanskii OI. Isoflavones and calcified tissues. Usp Fiziol Nauk. 2002 Apr-Jun;33(2):83-94.
- Picherit C, Coxam V, Bennetau-Pelissero C, Kati-Coulibaly S, Davicco MJ, Lebecque P, Barlet JP.Daidzein is more efficient than genistein in preventing ovariectomy-induced bone loss in rats. J Nutr 2000 Jul;130(7):1675-81.
- Gao YH, Yamaguchi M. Anabolic effect of daidzein on cortical bone in tissue culture: comparison with genistein effect. Mol Cell Biochem1999 Apr;194(1-2):93-7.
- Kritz-Silverstein D, Goodman-Gruen DL. Usual dietary isoflavone intake, bone mineral density, and bone metabolism in postmenopausal women. J Womens Health Gend Based Med 2002 Jan-Feb;11(1):69-78.
- Brown, Susan E., Better Bones, Better Body. Keats Publishing, Inc., New Canaan, CT. 1996: 186.
- Prior, Jerilynn C., “Progesterone and the prevention of osteoporosis,” The Canadian Journal of Ob&Gyn & Women’s Health Care 3.4 (1991): 178-184.
- Lee, John R., Natural Progesterone, third ed. (Sebastopol, CA: BLL Publishing, 1994) 99.