Boost your bone health

Bones are living, dynamic, interacting organs of the human organism that do more than provide skeletal support. They are continually breaking down and building up.

The trick to having strong bones, explains Naturopath, Sally Mathrick, is to ensure that the rate of breaking down doesn’t exceed the rate of rebuilding.

Bones are constructed of a protein framework cladded by calcium phosphate, which is made up of phosphate, oxygen and calcium – the focal point of popular media when discussing bone health. Ninety-nine percent of the body’s calcium is embedded in the bones and the one percent found within the soft tissue, is vital for a huge number of physiological functions. Every muscle contraction, including each heart-beat is dependant in part upon calcium. Each nerve transmission requires calcium, meaning it is required for virtually every physiological function. If levels of calcium in the blood are insufficient, it can be mined from the bones in large amounts. Often, too much is taken from the bones and deposited into soft tissue, which increases the risk of hardening diseases such as arthritis and atherosclerosis.

There are eighteen key bone-building nutrients required for optimal bone health and a deficiency in any of them can have a negative impact. In addition to calcium, the essential bone nutrients include potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper, silica, boron, Vitamins A, C, D, B6, B12, folic acid, essential fatty acids and proteins. If the availability of any of these essential nutrients falls short, bone softening – known as osteomalacia, or bone fragility or loss – known as osteoporosis can develop.


“If you place a calcium supplement in a glass of water, does it dissolve entirely? If there’s a sandy remnant in the glass, it’s worth questioning if it can solubilise inside your body,” suggests nutrition expert and author David Wolfe. He strongly discourages the use of calcium supplementation in any form, because it contributes to numerous hardening, calcification diseases. Wolfe is a strong advocate of “super foods”, including algae’s (spirulina and chlorella) and cacao (chocolate) seeds, both of which contain a high level of minerals, including phosphorus, magnesium and calcium in a wholefood matrix.

Dairy has long been promoted as the major source of dietary calcium for strong bones. Indeed, dairy intake in early years has been shown to increase bone density in young people. However, that’s about as far as the evidence goes in terms of the bone health benefits of consuming milk products. Dairy has many nutritionally controversial issues surrounding it, the two most prevalent being digestibility in most adult guts and the toxic bioaccumulation from commercial cows’ exposure to chemicals during rearing.

Perhaps the primary reason for bone demineralisation is due to contemporary processed, demineralised foods and high levels of stress in the modern world. Both of these factors contribute to a decrease in the body’s pH. This means a slight acidification of the fluids of the body. To buffer acidity, the body extracts alkalising minerals from the bones – like calcium, to reduce the risk of illnesses such as cancer or inflammatory diseases.

Refinement of foods results in a loss of minerals and often, processing of food leaves a simple carbohydrate or corrupted protein structure with little nourishment value. Many minerals, vitamins and other plant chemicals are lost in the process of food manufacturing. Commercial plant foods are often grown in poorly mineralised soils, resulting in lower mineral content. When ever possible, buy organic or biodynamic produce.

Dr Susan Brown from the Centre for Better Bones in New York, promotes the bone-preserving benefits of a diet high in alkalising fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and spices. These wholefoods create an internal alkaline environment that is kind to the bones and can contribute to their rebuilding.

Professor Bahram Arjmandi, is leading a research team that’s showing that the humble prune has the ability to support bone regeneration in postmenopausal women. Prunes (dried plums) contain special phenolic compounds that trigger growth factors linked to bone formation. They are also one of the highest antioxidant rich foods and have generous levels of potassium, boron and copper. The women involved in the study are eating approximately 10 prunes a day and are showing significant increases in bone density after only 6 months. If you are keen to up your prune intake, ease into it with 3 or 4 a day. Starting on 10 will cause digestive mayhem! Soak them overnight or cook them gently and eat them with other soluble fibres like oats to reduce their digestive impact. Over a few weeks, gradually increase to 10 prunes a day.


  • Prunes
  • Orange vegetables, especially sweet potato and carrots
  • Green leafy vegetables, particularly cabbage, broccoli, turnip greens and watercress
  • Soaked almonds, other nuts and seeds
  • Fruits such as oranges, plums and peaches
  • Celery
  • Seaweeds, like dulse, contain an excellent mineral matrix
  • Superfoods, particularly cacao
  • Dietary phytoestrogens from fermented soy products (particularly for women transiting menopause)

Lifestyle Factors for Stronger Bones

There are many factors affecting good bone mineralization. Lack of physical exercise is one of the major reason that so many people are experiencing poor bone health. Exercise is possibly the best thing you can do for your bones. Impact and weight bearing exercises that affect the whole spine are particularly beneficial. Walking helps build the density of the hip and leg bones. Any activity that makes the body work against gravity, provides benefit and including variety to your exercise regime provides multi-directorial bone impacts – as well as keeping exercise interesting.

Another primary influence on bone strength is the amount of sunlight or Vitamin D we are exposed to. The influence of sunglasses, windows, sunscreens and a society that spends a large amount of time indoors has brought about a deficiency in the sunlight vitamin in epidemic proportions. Food sources of Vitamin D are limited, though it can be found in fatty fish, beef, liver, butter, eggs and foods fortified with vitamin D.

Additionally, hormone imbalances play a role in depleting the calcium stores within the bones, namely oestrogen, testosterone, adrenal thyroid and parathyroid hormones. The use of drugs, including caffeine, alcohol and recreational drugs also effect strength of bone mineralisation in various ways. NH


  • Cut back on the coffee - People with a high caffeine intake often have low bone mass. Caffeine increases urinary output of calcium.
  • Too much animal protein makes the blood more acidic. Acidity is balanced by calcium and phosphorus, often taken from the bones. A high protein intake increases urinary output of calcium.
  • Long term Pharmaceutical use – investigate long-term use of steroids, thyroid hormone, anticonvulsants, potassium-sparing diuretics and anticoagulants and how they affect bone density. Discuss with your health professional.
  • Avoid soft drinks – Soft drinks provide excess phosphoric acid, which reduces calcium absorption into the bone.
  • Processed foods – they lack minerals, vitality, nourishment and create an acidic internal environment. They may lead to extracting minerals from your bones.
  • Sedentary lifestyle – get active and put some pressure on those bones!
  • Hiding from the sun - get outside and catch some rays! Bear your body (or at least your arms) for 20 - 30 minutes a day to ensure you get your daily dose. Or get yourself a good Vitamin D3 supplement.

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The information presented on this website is not intended as specific medical advice and is not a substitute for professional medical treatment or diagnosis. Read our Medical Notice.