Osteoporosis-related bone breaks cost the United States $17 billion per year and may cost $25 billion by 2025, according to data released this past summer by bone-health advocate the National Bone Health Alliance (NBHA; Washington, DC). Approximately 9 million U.S. adults suffer from this disease, while another 48 million currently have low bone mass. With osteoporosis risk at an all-time high in the United States, can nutrition and dietary supplementation play a role in helping maintain bone health against this disease?
Yes, says Taylor Wallace, senior director of NBHA’s scientific and clinical programs. He recommends these top five nutrients to shore up bone health:
- Calcium and vitamin D, of course: Calcium is the building block of bone, and vitamin D is essential to help pull calcium into the bones. Wallace says that the National Osteoporosis Foundation is currently performing a meta-analysis of calcium and vitamin D supplementation for the prevention of fractures. Results should publish in Q2 of 2014. He adds that, in terms of nutrient deficiencies of vitamin D and calcium, “I think you’ll see that with hip fractures, especially, that they’re very highly correlated.” Vitamin D, in particular, has gained more attention among policymakers in recent years as an essential nutrient Americans don’t get enough of. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) updated its Dietary Reference Intake recommendations for calcium and vitamin D for the first time in 13 years. The new recommendations for vitamin D include an Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for adults of 400 IU/day and a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults of 600 IU/day (800 IU/day for those over 71 years). Many Americans do not get adequate exposure to sunlight, so supplementation is often necessary, Wallace says. “There are very few foods fortified with high levels of vitamin D. Milk is the highest I can think of. An 8-oz glass probably has around 100 IU of vitamin D, whereas the Institute of Medicine recommends between 600-800 IU per day.”
- Protein: About half of bone is made up of protein. Protein acts synergistically with calcium. Nutritionists recommend lean protein intake, especially.
- Fiber: Wallace says there have been a lot of new studies indicating that fiber increases the absorption and retention of calcium, magnesium, and other bone-essential minerals.
- Potassium: “In the past 5-7 years, there’s been a lot of new research showing some beneficial effects of potassium on bone mineral density and risk of fracture,” he says. When most people think of a good potassium source, they think of bananas. But actually, Wallace says, the food highest in potassium is potatoes. Other good sources include beans, dates, and, of course, bananas.
Just as these nutrients can help fight osteoporosis, so is a new campaign NBHA launched this summer, called 2Million2Many. The name reflects the fact that every year, two million bone breaks are caused by osteoporosis. The campaign urges people over the age of 50 to request osteoporosis testing anytime a fracture happens. Currently, only 2 in 10 bone breaks result in an osteoporosis test, says NBHA.