Bone Health for Whole Body Health

The bones play several vital roles in the human body. Some of those functions are obvious, like function and movement, while others might be surprising, such as mineral storage, muscle contractions, and blood cell production. Because of the many roles your bones play, it is important to keep them strong and healthy.

The human body has approximately 206 bones that are made up of calcium and phosphorous within a collagen matrix. The calcium and phosphorous makes the bones strong and hard, and the collagen makes them flexible. The hardness and flexibility of bone enables it to support the weight of your body and withstand the impact of normal daily activities like walking and running. The bones also protect vital organs and structures, like your spinal cord, brain and heart, from getting damaged during falls or from other impact.

Although calcium and phosphorous give bones their strength and structure, the main reason your bones contain them is so that your body can have a steady supply of these minerals. In fact 90 percent of the calcium and 85 percent of the phosphorous in your body is stored in your bones and teeth. Phosphorous helps your kidneys filter wastes, helps your body use other vitamins and minerals, and contributes to cell growth and repair. Calcium helps your muscles contract and relax, especially your heart muscle, and helps your nerves function properly.

You can get calcium and phosphorous from your diet — calcium from leafy greens, bone meal and dairy products; phosphorous from meats and fish, nuts and legumes, and dairy products – and from dietary supplements. When you have enough of these minerals in your diet, the body stores most of it in your bones but keeps a small percentage in the blood for immediate use. If you continually add these minerals from your diet, your bones should remain healthy and strong. However, if you stop eating the foods that provide these crucial minerals, and do make up the difference with supplements, your body will tap into the bones to get the minerals it needs. Over time this can lead to bone weakness and damage in the form of osteoporosis.

But removing calcium and phosphorous from your diet is not the only way to compromise bone heath. It is possible to have a diet rich in these minerals and have weakened bones due to hormonal issues, dietary imbalances, or an illness that affects absorption.

A disease that negatively affects nutrient absorption, such as Crohns, can cause low phosphorous levels. Your body needs phosphorous to use vitamin D, and vitamin D helps you deposit calcium into your bones. So, by not getting enough phosphorous, your body is also unable to use the vitamin D it needs store calcium properly. Conversely, a diet extremely high in phosphorous can cause kidney disease and can also lead to bone loss because the more phosphorous you have in your blood, the more calcium you need to take from the bones to balance things out. Women have an added disadvantage because of their bodies rely on estrogen and progesterone to stimulate bone growth. When women reach menopause, they tend to lose bone mass due to the loss of these important bone-building hormones.

Protecting your bone health is a multi-pronged effort:

1. Start with a healthy diet rich in natural sources of calcium and phosphorous. If you are unable to eat foods with these minerals, consider a multivitamin containing those minerals, or taking individual supplements. Adults should have 700 mg of phosphorous and 1,000 mg of calcium daily. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need 1,250 mg of phosphorous per day, those same women, as well as peri- and post-menopausal women need, need up to 1,300 mg of calcium per day.

2. Exercise regularly. The bones are covered in a thin membrane called a periosteum. When you exercise the muscles pull the periosteum away from the surface of the bone, creating a pocket of space. Bone tissue grows to fill in that space, which makes the bone thicker at that point. Regular exercise can prevent, and even reverse, bone loss by increasing the density of your bones. Excellent bone-building exercises include: walking, running or jogging and lifting weights.

3. Get regular checkups and physicals and include blood tests for vitamin D and blood calcium levels in addition to the usual cholesterol tests. Women over 40, and anyone with small bones, should also consider a bone density scan which can find early signs of osteoporosis.

4. Spend up to fifteen minutes a day in the sun. Although prolonged sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer, a small amount is crucial for bone health because your body uses sunlight to make vitamin D. If you have very fair skin, consider spending five minutes in the sun before applying your sunscreen. Those with light brown or tan skin might need up to fifteen minutes before applying sunscreen, and those with extremely dark skin could need twenty or thirty. However, if you are uncomfortable with the idea of spending time in the sun without sunscreen, consider taking a vitamin D supplement, or eating foods that contain vitamin D, like fortified dairy products. The average adult needs from 200 to 2,000 IUs per day depending on the season – less in sunny months, and more during the cold or overcast months.

5. Take medications to prevent and reverse osteoporosis. If you have already experience bone loss you can buy Actonel, Fosamax, Reclast and other anti-osteoporosis drugs. These drugs are designed to slow the rate of bone loss, or help the body return calcium to the bones and are only available with a prescription from your doctor.


  1. Jaime Brown says

    This is a big thing in my family, I am trying to teach my daughters, to think about their bones and get lots of calcium and vitamin D. I believe it is good to talk about bone(and all health) so that hopefully never have to deal with bone loss, thank you:)

  2. I take calcium supplements regularly! Bone health is important!

  3. Victoria Ess says

    Great post. It's so important to start young, and my doctor has given me many of the same tips.

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