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Osteoporosis Prevention with Calcium & Magnesium

November 13, 2014 (Updated: August 4, 2021)
Lily Moran

If you think the key to avoiding osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease common among the elderly, is by drinking milk, or popping calcium supplements, it’s time for a little talk.

Calcium is a versatile nutrient with plenty of health benefits, including strengthening bones. But please don’t fall for the hype about how drinking milk does a body good.

Conflicting research has made many health-care professionals—including me—question the value of milk for maintaining strong bones.

I realize this is a radical departure from what you’ve been told over the years. So let’s look at the facts about milk and bone health.

First, there’s a new study out, published in the highly regarded British Medical Journal, that reviewed two decades of previous research involving more than 100,000 men and women.

Researchers found no proof that drinking milk reduced fractures.

These findings are not unusual. We know, for instance, that the areas that consume the most milk, like the U.S. and European Union, also have the highest rate of osteoporosis.

The truth is, there have been no randomized clinical trials proving that drinking milk reduces the risk of broken bones.

So does this mean calcium supplements are the best way to protect and strengthen bones? The short answer: no. Here’s why….

Calcium alone—especially from supplements—is just not enough to maintain healthy bones, which get much of their strength from a combination of different nutrients.

Then there’s the issue of heart health risk. Calcium supplements have been linked to an increased danger of heart disease and heart attack in two major reviews.

The calcium–heart health connection is controversial, too. There have been other studies showing that supplements have no impact on heart health.

But until we have a better handle on this situation, I recommend erring on the side of caution. So I tell my patients to minimize their intake of calcium supplements and milk.

Without milk and calcium supplements, what’s left when it comes to strengthening bones? Plenty!

Here are five simple steps that I share with my patients who want to avoid debilitating fractures without putting their cardiovascular health at risk.

First, focus on calcium-rich foods at mealtime. Consuming calcium in non-dairy foods is a healthy way to shore up bones without creating a whole new set of problems.

To get you started, here’s a partial list of some high-calcium possibilities:



Low-fat yogurt (8 ounces) 350 mg
Sardines (with bones, 3 ounces) 325 mg
Low-fat cheese (1.5 ounces) 307 mg
Orange juice (calcium fortified, 6
261 mg
Organic tofu (½ cup) 253 mg
Leafy greens
(kale, bok choi, collard, turnip, mustard, beet
½ cup)
100 mg
Sesame seeds (1 tablespoon) 88 mg
Almonds (raw, ¼ cup) 94 mg
Broccoli (½ cup) 21 mg

In spite of the negative findings for milk in the study I mentioned earlier, cheese and yogurt are still considered bone-friendly foods.

That’s because eating dairy products low in lactose (milk sugar) does reduce fractures. Milk’s high lactose content makes it a non-starter for bone health.

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Second, limit calcium supplements to no more than 500 mg daily.

I recommend calcium derived from algae for my patients, because it’s absorbable and free of side effects. The most commonly available form of calcium—calcium carbonate—is the least absorbable, so that’s one to avoid.

Here are the calcium intake guidelines for the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA):

  • Men and women over the age of 19: 1,000 mg daily.
  • Between the ages of 51 and 70: Men need 1,000 mg daily, but women should aim for 1,200 mg per day.
  • After age 71: Both men and women need to get 1,200 mg daily.

But here’s the key point: No matter what your age, the majority of your calcium intake should come from food sources. The maximum from supplements is 500 mg daily.

For calcium to do its job, you need to get appropriate amounts of these essential supportive nutrients. (NOTE: Some substances, such as magnesium, may be in your multivitamin or in a separate supplement as well. So you’ll need to calculate how much you’re getting from other supplements to avoid getting too much.)

Magnesium 500–750 mg
Vitamin D3 2000 IU
Vitamin K2 15–45 mg
Strontium 50 mg
Boron 1 mg (1000 mcg)

Specially created bone-health formulas, with balanced amounts of these and other nutrients, are good ways to get the full complement of bone-building substances in just one pill.

Third, build your bones with exercise. Sorry, couch potatoes, but this one’s non-negotiable. A sedentary lifestyle raises your risk of practically all chronic health concerns, including osteoporosis.

Concentrate on weight-bearing exercise—walking, jogging, climbing stairs—because these activities help bones shed old cells and bring new ones on board.

Resistance training, either with free weights or resistance bands, helps strengthen bones, too. That’s why I encourage my patients to alternate between weight-bearing workouts and strengthening exercises with weights or bands.

Fourth, go easy on alcohol, caffeine, and sodas. Alcohol interferes with vitamin D3’s bone-building abilities.

And caffeine leaches calcium from your body. Just three cups of coffee cancels out 45 mg of calcium—not a huge amount, but if you drink coffee all day and wine at night, the cumulative effect could weaken bones.

Then there’s soda, which often contains caffeine, and phosphoric acid, which blocks calcium from entering bones. Occasional soda drinkers probably aren’t at risk. But if you consume sodas on a regular basis, your bones are likely to suffer.

Fifth, get in the habit of checking your pH to avoid acidosis. Excess acid can be due to stress, environmental toxins, insufficient oxygen, and a poor diet. Processed and fast foods, coffee, sodas, alcohol, meat, dairy products, and anything with added sugar create acid, which weakens bones.

It’s easy to measure your pH levels using litmus paper. Your pH should be slightly alkaline, 7.2–7.4.

When you’re below 7.2, add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. No time to cook? Use a greens supplement.

Osteoporosis is a silent disease—until it isn’t. Often the first symptom is a broken bone, sometimes as a result of nothing more strenuous than picking up a bag of groceries or swinging a golf club.

So please take your bone health seriously. For starters, get a DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) scan, a quick and painless method of measuring your bone mineral density.

Then focus on a calcium-rich diet, proper supplements, and regular, moderate exercise to protect bones and help keep them strong.

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