Four minerals you must get for healthy bones
There are eleven major factors that will help you keep your bones strong and healthy. In this article, we will cover the first five.
1. Synergy – the over-riding rule: Nutrients never work alone, only in synergy with each other. Your body has to get enough of each one of the structural materials required to rebuild and maintain your bone structure every day. If even one is missing or insufficient, your bones go to “hell in a hand basket.” This article will look at the minerals that you require because the structure of your bones contains most of the minerals in your body. You cannot make one molecule of these minerals, yet you excrete them constantly as an essential part of the design of living beings. To maintain your bones (and other tissues), you have to constantly replace them.
2. Calcium: The most abundant mineral in your body, calcium makes up about 1.2 percent of your weight. Over 99 percent of your calcium forms the basic structure of your bones and teeth. Most people get woefully insufficient calcium to maintain bone mass. Canada is coy about its deficiencies, but the latest figures for the US show that two people in every three get less than the dietary reference intake (DRI) of calcium. (DRIs are the latest in an ever-changing series of terms used by the US to replace the old recommended dietary allowances, or RDA.)
For people aged 19 to 50, the American government’s DRI for calcium is 1000 milligrams per day. After age 50, it is raised to 1200 milligrams. Numerous authorities assert, however, that these intakes are insufficient, and America’s dismal record of massively increased rates of osteoporosis over the last 60 years is strong evidence that they are right. The Colgan Institute recommends 1000 to 2000 milligrams of supplemental calcium per day (over and above what you have in your diet), depending on age, gender, exercise, and health history.
Don’t rely on milk for your calcium. As I document in my book Nutrition for Champions, it is likely that milk products, which are continually touted to strengthen bones, actually weaken them. No one knows the whole story, but it has a lot to do with acidity. Although milk contains a high level of calcium, many milk products are acidic, and lower your blood pH into the acid range. We will see this acidity problem rear its ugly head repeatedly in the biochemistry of bone. The DNA code designs your body to function with blood that is slightly alkaline. When ever the body senses acidic blood, it pulls calcium from the bones to neutralize it. Remember, humans are the only animals that drink milk after weaning.
3. Phosphorus: The second most abundant mineral in your body, phosphorus makes up about 1 percent of your weight. Phosphorus comprises nearly half the mineral content of bone. The modern diet contains a higher level of phosphorus than what we ate prior to the Second World War. This change came about because of the switch from manure enrichment of soils to NPK fertilizers. It was a clever strategy used by Allied governments to create a profitable use for the leftover mountains of minerals that had been stockpiled for making 1940s-style bombs.
Some nutrition texts claim that this increase in phosphorus in the diet causes the body to lose bone, because it stimulates parathyroid hormone, which mobilizes calcium from bone. These texts are mistaken; it is the acidity problem again that we noted above in relation to milk products. Phosphoric acid, which is used in many sodas, is the form of phosphorus most tested in bone studies. Phosphoric acid lowers the body’s pH and as a result, causes the loss of calcium. Parathyroid hormone is involved because another of its tasks in the body is to monitor blood acidity levels, and mobilize calcium to keep blood alkaline. The mineral phosphorus (not phosphoric acid) is pH neutral and does not affect calcium metabolism.
The adult DRI for phosphorus is 700 milligrams per day. Despite the high levels in modern food, US government figures for phosphorus intake show that a quarter of the American population does not get that amount. The Colgan Institute recommends 700 to 1000 milligrams of total phosphorus per day (including what you get in your diet and supplements) depending on age, gender, level of exercise and health history. Because of its high level in modern foods, the mineral phosphorus is not usually included in supplements, except as the phosphate form of other minerals, such as calcium phosphate and potassium phosphate. Phosphorus occurs in most foods because it is a critical component of all living organisms. High-protein foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and legumes are good sources of phosphorus.
4. Potassium: At about 0.4 percent of your weight, potassium is the third most abundant mineral in your body and has many roles. Potassium is essential for transmission of nerve impulses, muscle contraction and regulation of fluid and mineral balance. Another important role of potassium is to neutralize bone-depleting acids. It is worth repeating again that metabolic acidosis “eats away” at bone much like acid rain eats away at stone. Without sufficient potassium in your diet, you cannot have strong bones.
Despite its abundance in human tissues and its essentiality for health, the US did not have a DRI for potassium until 2004. The average American diet contained about 2000 milligrams of potassium and the government let it go at that. Why? The politically incorrect answer is that scientists who are prepared to suffer government jobs or consultancies for long enough to end up on the committees that decide human nutrition standards are mostly “mugwumps.”
The adult DRI for potassium is now 4700 milligrams per day – more than double the previous estimates. At that level, one-third of Americans are deficient in this essential mineral. It’s no surprise then that one in two women, and one in four men the US and Canada are losing their bones.
Before 10,000 years ago, before there was agriculture and food processing to destroy or remove most of the potassium in our food, evidence indicates that the average human ate 6,000 to 11,000 milligrams of potassium a day. The evidence also indicates that those ancient humans were about three times as strong as the average American today, and had very dense bones.
When I was at Rockefeller University in the early 1980s, I had the privilege of working briefly with Linus Pauling, certainly the leading biochemist of the 20th century. With copious arguments against the government view, he recommended then that everyone should get at least 5,000 milligrams of potassium daily. Ever since, the Colgan Institute has recommended 5,000 to 10,000 milligrams of total potassium per day, plus 500 to 2,000 milligrams of supplemental potassium depending on age, gender, exercise, and health history.
Pauling’s prescient genius and our subsequent potassium recommendations for healthy bone and other body structures have been well vindicated by new research. Potassium specialist Susan New and her team at the University of Surrey in England provide a representative sample of the large quantity of recent work. In 1997, they analyzed data from the large Aberdeen Prospective Osteoporosis Study. The analysis showed without doubt that pre-menopausal women who ate a high level of potassium had larger and stronger bones. These women also showed higher retention of calcium as they aged, and significant protection against osteoporosis.
Potassium is equally important for men. In 1999, Katherine Tucker and colleagues followed elderly men in the famous Framingham Heart Study for four years. They found that men who ate high-potassium diets had stronger bones and showed significantly less decline in bone mass. In these studies, which are representative of the evidence, the high-potassium diets ranged from 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams per day. The low potassium diets ranged from 1,400 to 1,600 milligrams per day.
Those who eat large amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables and fish have potassium intakes of 6,000 to 11,000 milligrams per day, about the same as our pre-agricultural ancestors. As I documented in Nutrition for Champions, this is the level of potassium we are genetically programmed to eat by our DNA. It helps to protect us from many disorders, especially loss of bone.
5. Magnesium: Although magnesium is less abundant than sulphur in the body (sulphur makes up 0.3 percent of body weight while magnesium sits at about 0.1 percent), it may be more important, as half of your magnesium forms part of your bones. Magnesium deficiency interferes with calcium metabolism and the hormones that regulate calcium. Magnesium deficiency has been accepted recently as a risk factor for postmenopausal osteoporosis. Studies also show that magnesium supplementation can improve bone mineral density, even in older adults.
The DRI for magnesium is 410 milligrams per day for males aged 19 to 30 and 420 milligrams thereafter, and 310 milligrams for females age 19 to 30 and 320 milligrams thereafter. US government figures for magnesium intake show that 62 percent of the population does not get these amounts. Based on our 33 years of research, the Colgan Institute recommends 400 to 1800 milligrams of supplemental magnesium per day, depending on age, gender, exercise, and health history.
Ensure that your diet includes these four elements and you are well on the way to saving your bones. In the next issue, I will cover the latest science that will take you the rest of the way.
Excerpted from Dr Colgan’s forthcoming book, Strong Bones, scheduled for publication in spring 2008.
References available from VISTA.