Best Supplements for Osteoporosis

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Osteoporosis is a bone disease that develops when a person loses a significant amount of bone density. The disease leads to weak and brittle bones. People with osteoporosis are susceptible to bone fractures from even mild stressors such as coughing or bending over.

Since they have a high fracture risk, people with osteoporosis may eventually experience limited mobility. Some fractures that can be caused by osteoporosis—especially hip fractures—can increase a person's risk of death.

For someone with osteoporosis, slowing bone loss and building bone density is crucial. Although it’s not possible to reverse the bone damage caused by osteoporosis, treatment can sometimes improve bone density and prevent further fractures.

Treatment for osteoporosis involves medications that are designed to slow bone loss or increase bone density. These medications include bisphosphonates, calcitonin, and estrogen replacement therapy or estrogen receptor modulators.

In some cases, taking supplements as part of a medical treatment plan can prevent further bone loss and improve bone density. Read on to find out which supplements might be helpful if you have osteoporosis.

Over the shoulder view of young Asian woman browsing through medical products and reading the label on a bottle of medicine in front of the shelves in a pharmacy

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Calcium

Roughly 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the skeleton, which is why calcium is one of the most important nutrients for bone health.

Although getting calcium from dietary sources seems to benefit people with osteoporosis more so than getting it from supplements, some research has shown that taking calcium supplements can prevent further bone loss and fractures.

Some research suggests that calcium supplements may increase the risk of other diseases such as heart disease. However, experts generally support calcium supplements if taken in moderation and not to excess.

Should I Take Calcium Supplements?

Studies have shown that calcium supplements can prevent bone loss, but they might have adverse effects on your health in other ways. If you are at an increased risk of certain conditions, such as heart disease, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.

Calcium supplements alone can be controversial because of the conflicting evidence on their overall health benefits; however, research has shown that the best type of calcium supplement to take is usually calcium plus vitamin D. The combination can provide bone health benefits and reduce the risk of fractures in people with osteoporosis.

Meeting your daily needs for calcium through dietary sources does not come with the same heart health risks as getting calcium from supplements. To increase your calcium intake through dietary sources instead of with a supplement, include more milk products, cheese, yogurt, and green leafy vegetables such as curly kale and okra in your diet.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays an equally important role as calcium in bone health. Without adequate levels of vitamin D, the body’s ability to absorb calcium is hindered, which can lead to a deficiency and an increase in bone loss.

Research has shown that as many as 41.6% of American adults are deficient in vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also involved in the breakdown and rebuilding of bones (bone remodeling). Without adequate levels of vitamin D, people are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis or experiencing further bone loss if they already have the disease.

For people with osteoporosis, vitamin D supplementation can improve bone density. However, the amount they take should be balanced. In a study of 311 community-dwelling healthy adults without osteoporosis, taking large doses of vitamin D over three years decreased bone density slightly, but the chance of causing harm was not clear.

Get More Vitamin D Naturally

Adequate levels of vitamin D can be achieved by spending more time outdoors, because your body synthesizes the nutrient from the sun. You can also get vitamin D from the foods you eat, such as salmon, sardines, red meat, liver, egg yolks, and fortified foods (like breakfast cereal).

Magnesium

Magnesium supports the function of muscles and nerves; the regulation of blood pressure and insulin metabolism; and reproduction. The mineral is also vital for healthy bones. Close to 60% of the body’s stores of magnesium are found in bone tissue.

While research is mixed on the benefits of magnesium supplements for osteoporosis, some studies have suggested that taking magnesium supplements may improve bone density.

However, research has also shown that better bone density as a result of magnesium intake does not necessarily decrease the risk of fracture in people with osteoporosis. More research is needed to confirm whether magnesium supplements reduce fracture risk in people with the condition.

Do I Need More Magnesium?

Your doctor can order a blood test to check your magnesium levels, and they might recommend a supplement if you are deficient. To increase your magnesium intake through dietary sources, eat more seeds and nuts, such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, and peanuts.

Supplementation might be more beneficial for people who are deficient as opposed to being used as an additional form of treatment for someone with osteoporosis. It's also important to note that having too much magnesium can have detrimental effects on bone health.

Vitamin K

Research has found that vitamin K helps to regulate bone remodeling. Being deficient in vitamin K can lead to an increase in bone loss, especially for women.

However, the studies that have been done on the effects of vitamin K supplements in people with osteoporosis are either limited or contradictory. More research is needed to figure out whether vitamin K supplementation should be recommended for people with osteoporosis.

While vitamin K is not yet suggested as a supplemental treatment for osteoporosis, being deficient in vitamin K can lead to a lower bone density and a higher risk of fractures.

Preventing Vitamin K Deficiency

Eating foods containing a high amount of vitamin K is the best way to avoid becoming deficient. To get more of the nutrient naturally, add green leafy vegetables (such as kale and spinach), Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower to your diet.

However, if you are taking warfarin to treat or prevent blood clots, you should check with your healthcare provider first, as you may need to adjust the warfarin dose if you plan to make these changes to your diet.

Soy Isoflavones

Soy isoflavones are organic micronutrients found in soy and other plants (polyphenols). When you consume soy isoflavones, they act like the hormone estrogen in your body and activate certain estrogen receptors.

Having low levels of estrogen is one of the main risk factors that is associated with the development of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.

Research has found that soy isoflavones can slow bone loss and contribute to bone formation in the body. In turn, that could lead to an increase in bone density in people with osteoporosis.

Soy products, lentils, beans, and peas are all high in soy isoflavones.

One study showed that postmenopausal women who took soy isoflavone supplements increased their bone density by 54% and experienced a 23% reduction in a marker in the urine for bone breakdown (resorption); however, the significance of this finding as it might relate to reducing fractures was not clear.

While the research on the use of soy isoflavones and osteoporosis is promising, determining a proper dosage might be difficult because the studies that used the supplement to increase bone density used very different dosages. The current dosage recommendation for soy isoflavones is between 40 milligrams (mg) and 110 mg per day for one year.

Zinc

Studies have found a direct correlation between the amount of zinc a person gets and their level of bone density.

A recent study looked at how zinc supplementation could help older adults with osteoporosis. After one year, there was an increase in bone density in study participants and there were no adverse effects or fractures noted.

A limitation of the study, however, was that the people who participated were all deficient in zinc; therefore, it is unclear whether people who have adequate levels of the mineral would have the same results.

Also, there was no control (placebo) group, and all the people also received medication for osteoporosis. That means it also is not clear if the improvement in bone density was related to zinc or another therapy. The study authors recommended further research into the effects on bone of zinc treatment.

Summary

Although supplementation alone will not reverse osteoporosis, it can be an additional form of treatment to help prevent further bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures.

A Word From Verywell

If you are considering taking supplements as part of your osteoporosis treatment, it’s important that you talk to your doctor first. They will help you decide if you need the supplements. If you are not deficient in a particular nutrient, taking supplements might do more harm than good.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are some other natural treatments for osteoporosis?

    The best way to treat osteoporosis naturally is to make lifestyle changes. These include exercising more (with the permission of your doctor), eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals that have been shown to support bone health, and eliminating habits that could increase your risk of further bone loss, such as smoking or excessive alcohol use. These natural lifestyle changes can sometimes prevent osteoporosis. If you have already developed the disease, incorporating these changes could help you manage it.

  • Are too many supplements bad for you?

    Most supplements are safe when taken as directed, but it's still possible to have "too much of a good thing." Some adverse effects can occur if you are consistently taking too high a dose of many supplements, especially if they are fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. When these vitamins build up in your system, it can lead to vitamin toxicity.

  • Can certain supplements reverse osteoporosis?

    Osteoporosis cannot be reversed. The supplements that are good for bone health are designed to slow bone loss and possibly build some bone density back up to prevent fractures.

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