Calcium is often at the center of the conversation when it comes to managing or preventing osteoporosis. Those conversations are necessary, especially since there are myths about calcium consumption and strong bones. (For the record, no, you don’t need to get your calcium from milk.) But there’s more to supporting your bone health than this mineral.
The thing is, without the right vitamins, your body doesn’t know exactly what to do with calcium or where to put it. With the right balance of specific vitamins and minerals, calcium will get funneled to your bones, where it is needed to ensure good bone health.
Vitamins and Bone Health
We’re not saying you need to go out and clear the supplement aisle. In fact, the first place you should go is your doctor’s office. That’s because while certain vitamins play a critical role in your bone development and strength, taking more of them doesn’t seem to help.
Your goal is to have a normal range of these vitamins in your blood. If you’re deficient, using supplements or seeking dietary sources may bring your levels up to a healthy range, helping to improve your bone health. But if you’re already within the normal range, you don’t need more.
The only way to know which ones you need: a blood test. So before you swipe your card for those supplements: have you doctor test your blood levels to measure how much of these vitamins you have in your system.
Vitamins Critical for Bone Health
If your blood tests reveal that you’re low or deficient in any of these vitamins, talk to your doctor about how to raise your levels. Tailoring your diet to include food sources or taking supplements are the two most common options. Other times, your doctor may treat you immediately, by offering supplemental injections.
Vitamin B12 deficiency may increase your risk of sarcopenia, the age-related decline in muscle mass and strength (Ates Bulut, 2017). Researchers know this condition is associated with diseases like osteoporosis and osteopenia. Low muscle mass and osteoporosis specifically seem to go hand-in-hand in most men and women aged 20 or older (Jang, 2020).
A systematic review that looked at 17 studies regarding Vitamin B12 and its correlation to bone mineral density (a measure of bone strength) called for more research to be done into their relationship (de Macêdo, 2017). We can’t say for sure that lacking Vitamin B12 threatens bone health, but avoiding this deficiency has its benefits. A severe Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause fatigue, numbness or tingling in the feet or hands, diarrhea, and headaches (Ankar, 2021).
We sing the praises of Vitamin C when it comes to immunity, but getting enough can also help your bone health. Researchers looked at over 50 studies, including over 105,000 individuals, regarding the relationship between Vitamin C and bone health. They found that higher dietary intakes of Vitamin C were associated with a 33% lower risk of osteoporosis. Getting more of this vitamin in the diet was also associated with a lower risk of hip fracture and higher bone mineral density (Malmir, 2018).
The “sunshine vitamin” is the one most closely associated with bone health because it helps your body absorb dietary calcium. It plays such an important role that without enough Vitamin D, our bodies only absorb 10-15% of the calcium we consume (Chauhan, 2021). It’s little surprise then that Vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis in adults (Sizar, 2021).
Supplementing with Vitamin D in people who are deficient can help improve osteoporosis. However, it doesn’t work for everyone (Shahnazari, 2019). It’s currently believed that getting additional Vitamin D is only beneficial for the bone health of those who are deficient (Amrein, 2020).
So you eat foods rich in calcium and then Vitamin D helps your body absorb it--but the story isn’t finished just yet. Vitamin K takes over from there, acting as a sort of traffic guard that directs where the calcium should go. If you have healthy levels of Vitamin K, it tells your body to put calcium into your bones, where it can boost bone mineral density and make your bones stronger. Without Vitamin K, your body does not send calcium to the bones. Instead, the calcium stays in your blood vessels, where it can cause issues such as weakening your bones, kidney stones, and affecting the workings of your heart and brain (Maresz, 2015).
The Bottom Line
The best approach is ensuring you don’t develop any deficiencies that could negatively impact your bone health. Eating a wide variety of foods can help you meet your daily needs of all of these vitamins. When in doubt, work with your doctor or a registered nutritionist/dietician to explore if you are deficient in any of these essential vitamins, and to work on how to safely incorporate them into your diet.