Bone density supplements deliver key micronutrients to your body that strengthen your bones. Keeping your bone density high as you age is important for preventing frailty fractures, osteopenia, and osteoporosis, all of which can be traced to a loss of bone density.
You might think that all there is to strong bones is taking plenty of calcium, but there’s far more to it than that. Read on to find out what other ingredients you should look for in a top-notch bone density supplement, and how they can benefit your bone health.
Bone density supplement benefits
1. Bone density supplements deliver a high dose of calcium
Calcium is vital for bone health. After all, your bones are mostly made out of calcium! During periods where you are not consuming enough calcium to meet the needs of your other body systems, your body may pull calcium from your bones, which can affect your density.
Because of this, taking a calcium supplement is recommended by the Endocrine Society for those affected by osteoporosis (1).
However, not all calcium is made equally either. Different forms of calcium have different “bioavailability” – that is, your body absorbs them at different rates. Calcium that comes from limestone or other rocks is not very bioavailable, so your body will not be able to absorb all the calcium in your supplement. Some of it will be wasted.
Chelated calcium and calcium that comes from plants are often more easily absorbed than other forms of calcium. Check the form of calcium in a supplement before you purchase it to ensure your body will be able to use it.
2. Bone density supplements use vitamin D to boost your calcium absorption
Vitamin D, and calcium go hand-in-hand. Without vitamin D, your body can not absorb calcium properly, which means it will be wasted. Even if you get enough calcium, your body won’t be able to use the calcium unless you get enough vitamin D as well. For this reason, the Endocrine Society recommends vitamin D supplements to most women who have osteoporosis (2).
Vitamin D is essential for a wide variety of reasons besides just your bone health. It is one of the more essential nutrients out there. However, vitamin D deficiency is prevalent because it is not typically found in food (3).
Instead, you get most of your vitamin D from the sun. But your body may not be able to make vitamin D from the sun all year round, depending on your location. This very quickly leads to vitamin D deficiency.
3. Bone density supplements can include herbal additives that maintain bone strength
A deficiency of some sort almost always causes bone density problems. Correcting this deficiency can help the problem, which is why most supplements focus on vitamins and minerals.
However, herbal supplements can be helpful, as well. They are much rarer than your typically calcium supplement but may be helpful for those who need a little extra help on top of the usual vitamin supplement.
Studies have shown that certain combinations of herbs can be quite helpful for treating osteoporosis and general bone density problems.
In particular, a combination of Herba epimedii, Fructus ligustri lucidi, and Fructus psoraleae provided some benefit to postmenopausal women who had problems with bone density (4). This formula is commonly called “ELP,” and the herbs are usually given at a ratio of 10:8:2.
Other herbs are sometimes used, but their effects have not been studied. You can find supplements containing black cohosh and horsetail claiming to improve bone density, but they have not been studied in a clinical setting.
4. Vitamin K contributes to stronger bones as well
Vitamin K is another commonly used vitamin to improve bone density. This vitamin doesn’t affect your bone density directly. However, it helps calcium bind to your bones. Therefore, without enough vitamin K, calcium may not be able to absorb into your bones.
This isn’t going to help anything. So, it is essential to get enough vitamin K in your diet as well.
However, getting enough vitamin K is often more confusing than it is to get enough of other vitamins. Sometimes, vitamin K can interfere with certain medications, especially blood thinners. It is also possible to get too much vitamin K, which can cause its problems.
Before taking a supplement containing significant amounts of vitamin K, you should speak with your doctor. It is important not to develop other problems while you’re trying to improve your bone density.
5. Bone density supplements have been proven to be effective in clinical trials
Some supplements are sketchy. You can find a supplement that claims to do nearly everything.
However, many of the ingredients used in bone density supplements are clinically proven and do work. For example, adequate calcium intake has been directly linked to increased bone density. Therefore, taking a bone density supplement containing calcium is likely to improve your bone density, assuming you were deficient in calcium before (5).
Most bone density supplements also include all the extra vitamins you need to use calcium correctly, such as vitamin D and vitamin K. Both of these vitamins are vital for your body to absorb and correctly use calcium. Without them, much of the calcium you eat may go to waste.
This is one reason why it is usually in your best bet to take a bone density supplement instead of just a generic calcium supplement. You need other vitamins as well to improve your bone density, not just calcium.
Bone density supplement side effects
Bone density supplements can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, such as constipation, gas, and bloating. This is mostly because they contain high amounts of calcium. It is possible to get too much calcium, which can lead to an upset stomach. Your body can only absorb so much calcium at a time. The rest of it will simply sit around in your stomach and intestines, which can cause discomfort.
If you experience these symptoms while taking calcium, it is probably a sign that you are taking too much. You may want to cut back and speak with your doctor about the correct dosage.
These symptoms aren’t always caused by too much calcium, though. Too much vitamin K can cause gas and bloat as well. As you can imagine, this can make figuring out the cause of yore symptoms complicated. You may have to mess with your dosage for a bit before you figure out the best amounts for you.
Bone density supplements can cause hypercalcemia. This is a severe condition where calcium deposits begin to appear in your blood. This can be caused by a variety of conditions, including taking too much calcium.
However, it is quite rare for this condition to be caused by taking too much calcium alone. After all, your body can only absorb so much calcium at a time and needs other vitamins to do so. It is rather difficult for everything to line up perfectly for this disorder to happen.
This disorder is usually caused by something else, like cancer or hyperparathyroidism (6). It is very doubtful that you’ll develop this condition from taking a bone density supplement, but it is possible.
Bone density supplements may increase your risk for cardiovascular events. This is a very new area of research. Some studies claim that taking a calcium supplement may increase your chance for cardiovascular problems like heart attacks (7). In these instances, this seems to be valid with or without vitamin D supplementation as well.
However, other studies have not found the same conclusions (8). Many have reported no increased risk of heart disease among those taking vitamin D supplements. Instead, they hypothesis the increased risk found in the other studies was the result of an underlying condition affecting the results.
In other words, they think women with osteoporosis (who are more likely to take calcium supplements) may also be at risk for heart problems whether they take a calcium supplement or not. Therefore, it would make sense that those who take supplements for bone density are more likely to have problems with their heart, though this isn’t caused directly by the supplements.
Right now, the jury is out on which side is correct. If you have heart problems already, you may wish to speak to your doctor before starting a bone density supplement with calcium in it – just to be safe.
Bone density supplement dosage
Different supplements have different amounts of vitamins and minerals in them. Because of this, we cannot give an overarching dosage. However, we can provide you with the proper amount of each vitamin you should take each day.
Your body can only absorb about 500 mg of calcium each day. Because of this, you shouldn’t take more than 500 mg at a time, or you may risk side effects like gas.
Your age affects how much vitamin D you should take. Those who are over 65 should take at least 800 IU daily to prevent fractures (9). If you’re younger, your dosage will depend mainly on how much sun exposure you get and your location.
The recommended daily dosage of magnesium is between 300 to 500 mg. You should consume half the amount of magnesium as you do calcium. So, if you’re taking 1,000 mg of calcium, you should take 500 mg of magnesium.
Vitamin K should not exceed 150 mg a day, or you may risk side effects. You should speak with your doctor about taking vitamin K if you’re on blood thinners, because vitamin K may have an adverse effect.
Bone density supplement benefits FAQs
Q: What vitamins are best for building bone density?
A: When it comes to vitamins for bone strength, the top candidates are vitamin D and Vitamin K2. Vitamin D makes this list because it enhances your body’s ability to absorb calcium and put it to use in synthesizing new bone tissue.
Vitamin K2 is a newer nutritional discovery, and it assists with the formation of new bone cells (10). Too few of either of these vitamins can impair your ability to maintain your bone density.
Q: What minerals are best for building bone density?
A: Calcium is the obvious one, as it’s the primary compound bone cells use to harden into strong load-bearing structures.
But calcium is not the only mineral that’s essential for bone health. Selenium, a trace mineral found in nuts, fish, and poultry, helps with bone density as well, and silicon (found in silica among other supplemental sources) also plays a role in bone cell formation.
Q: Can protein help build bone density?
A: A moderate amount of protein intake is good for maintaining bone density through its action on muscle mass, but too much protein can actually be detrimental if your calcium intake is low (11).
The lesson here is not to limit your protein intake; rather, you should ensure that your calcium intake is high enough to support a high protein intake if you are taking high doses of a protein supplement.
Q: Is exercise helpful for increasing bone density?
A: Yes, exercise is one of the best ways to build and maintain bone density.
However, not all exercise is equally effective: to build bone density, you need high-load, high-impact exercise, like weight lifting, jump roping, or calisthenics, to effectively build bone density (12). Low-impact exercise, like swimming or cycling, is not effective at increasing bone density.
Related: Our top bone density picks
There’s much more to a bone density supplement than its calcium content. Ingredients like vitamin D, selenium, and vitamin K2 all either boost the efficacy of calcium, or have a direct impact on bone strength and density in their own right.
A good bone density supplement will combine multiple ingredients for optimal results, helping to maintain the strength of your bones as you age.