Taking too much calcium, and ingesting calcium supplements on an empty stomach, warning that high doses of supplemental calcium – 1,200 milligrams or more daily – can clog arteries and raise heart disease risk by 30 percent.
Calcium supplements can protect bones without raising the risk of heart disease as long as one follows a few simple safety rules. Swedish researchers advise a limit of 600 to 700 milligrams daily -- that’s the dose that builds bone strength, without damaging the lining of arteries. It is also important to always pair calcium pills with food so they’ll be absorbed at a slow, steady rate.
An alternative is to get at least half of our calcium (roughly 600 milligrams daily) in the form of food. A cup of milk provides 300 milligrams.
LET THE SUNSHINE IN – Getting 15 minutes of sunshine just three times a week, without using sunscreens can cut the risk of bone fractures as much as 33 percent, say researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. This is supported by Boston University doctors who discovered that lotions (like an SPF 8) can block the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D by as much as 97 percent.
“When your body is exposed to UV light, it produces vitamin D – a nutrient that’s essential for shuttling calcium into bone tissue,” says Michael Holick, M.D., a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. “If you’re deficient in D, your bones will become weak and brittle…even if you’re eating a great diet!”
RICH ROOTS – Root vegetables are rich in strontium – a trace mineral that can strengthen bones as quickly and effectively as calcium does. Because strontium and calcium are so similar chemically, bones use strontium to build new bone tissue whenever calcium is in short supply. A single cup of potatoes, radishes or carrots daily provide best results. Root veggies are also packed with vitamin K – a nutrient that builds a strong mesh-like framework inside bones to make them tougher, say researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center in Boston.
EXERCISE WITH CAUTION – Exercise strengthens bones, but it is dangerous to jump into vigorous athletic activities without prepping the body. Cut your risk of fractures by 18 percent or more if you start with tai chi instead of bone-jarring sports such as tennis, squash and basketball, say researchers at Texas Tech University. Gentle impact allows bones to grow and strengthen safely, whereas more rigorous sports can result in nasty fractures for folks new to the workout scene. You can kick-start your bone-building plan safely with 20-minute sessions of walking, cycling or swimming.
SIX PRUNES A DAY – Prunes (or, dried plums) kick-start new bone growth in as little as three months, according to researchers at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Eating six of them daily cuts bone thinning in half. Plus, prunes are one of nature’s richest food sources of boron. The credit goes to boron -- a hard-to-find trace mineral that helps lock calcium and vitamin D into bone tissue so they can’t leach out over time, says Michael Hirt, M.D., medical director of The Center for Integrative Medicine in Tarzana, CA.
SILICON FROM BEER – Studies at the University of California, Davis, show that beer is one of the best possible sources of silicon, which kick-starts the formation of healthy new bone tissue. The study-proven dose: one 12-ounce bottle daily.
MAGNESIUM TO THE MAX – We all know that calcium makes bones strong, but very few realize that magnesium makes them flexible and shock-absorbent. Magnesium is the key to weathering small tumbles without major bone breaks, say researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. And according to UCLA researchers, just taking 400 milligrams of magnesium in supplement form daily can help prevent fractures for up to 71 percent of women.
TEA VS. BONE THINNING – Recent studies at Texas Tech show 32 ounces of green tea daily can stop bone thinning in as little as one month – and this protective trick works even for postmenopausal women who are at high risk of developing brittle bones. Green tea’s antioxidants – specifically, a type called polyphenols, dampen inflammation in the bloodstream.
NO TO STRESS – Women struggling with chronic stress, anxiety or blue moods have bone densities up to 15 percent lower than folks who feel happier and more relaxed. Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem discovered that when blood levels of cortisol (the damaging stress hormone) stay constantly high, it dampens the activity of bone-building osteoblast cells and speeds the loss of calcium and magnesium from bone tissue. They recommend relaxing activities that help one unwind and calm the nerves.