Osteoporosis: Foods, Herbs, Supplements for Bone Health
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Osteoporosis: Foods, Herbs & Supplements for Bone Health

researched and written by the ProjectAWARE group, 2001

Foods and Herbs

It was estimated in 1997 that the management of osteoporosis costs the United States some $6 billion a year. Until quite recently, the Food and Drug Administration preferred "food over supplements", and most physicians told us that supplements, including calcium, were a waste of time and money. It seems ironic that doctors and the NIH now seem to be saying "supplements over food".7

Many practitioners prefer food sources of vitamins and minerals. Isolated or synthetic compounds in supplements often do not carry the other synergistic factors found in food. It has been found that for calcium to actually strengthen bone, it must be consumed along with several other nutrients that few experts seem to discuss. Phosphorus is particularly important, but magnesium, boron, zinc, vitamin D and vitamin A are also needed for bone metabolism.7

Foods and herbs that promote bone health:

Black pepper Contains 4 anti-osteoporosis compounds.7
Cabbage Contains 145 ppm (parts per million) boron on a dry-weight basis and boron helps raise estrogen levels. Cabbage ranks highest among leafy vegetables in boron content.7
Cod liver oil A natural source of vitamins A and D3
Dandelion Contains 125 ppm boron, and more than 20,000 ppm calcium, meaning that just ten grams (just under 7 tablespoons) of dried dandelion shoots could provide more than 1 milligram of boron and 200 milligams of calcium. It ranks second to cabbage for boron content, and is also a fair source of silicon, which some studies suggest helps strengthen bone7
Garlic and onions And eggs, if your cholesterol is not too high. These foods contain sulfur, which is needed for healthy bones and connective tissue.3
Parsley Parsley is rich in boron. However, it would take about 3 ounces of dried parsley to provide the 3 milligrams deemed useful in raising estrogen levels.7
Pigweed On a dry-weight basis, pigweed leaves are one of our best vegetable sources of calcium, at 5.3%. A small serving of steamed leaves (1/3 ounce or 1/10 cup) provides a hearty 500 milligrams of calcium. Other good plant sources of calcium, in descending order of potency, include lamb's-quarters, broad beans, watercress, licorice, marjoram, savory, red clover shoots, thyme, Chinese cabbage (bok choy), basil, celery seed, dandelion and purslane.7

 Supplements, vitamins and minerals that promote bone health:

Betaine HCl Hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach, or in the form of betaine hydrochloride supplement, is needed for proper absorption of calcium and all nutrients.3 HCl is needed for ionization of calcium in the stomach, prior to absorption in the small intestine.
Boron Improves calcium absorption (note: if you are taking a complex containing boron, omit this supplement)3 Boron reduces the amount of calcium excreted in the urine. It is also magnesium-sparing15 and helps increase estrogen levels in the blood.7 Osteoporosis may be a sign of boron deficiency.2
Calcium At least 1,200 mg/day of calcium should be consumed daily, from either food and/or supplements. Levels greater than 2,500 mg/day are not recommended. Magnesium should also be taken with calcium, generally in a ratio of 2:1 calcium to magnesium. Calcium hydroxyapatite is very bioavailable and is the only form of calcium that promotes osteoblast (bone building) activity. To ensure adequate calcium absorption, a daily intake of 400-600 IU of vitamin D is recommended.24 The best natural sources of calcium are milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, buttermilk and other dairy products. Other sources include salmon, green leafy vegetables, non-dairy almond drinks and tofu.15
Chromium Improves insulin efficiency, which improves bone density3 Chromium bound with niacin is more bioavailable than the picolinate form, which should not be used for long periods of time unless under medical supervision.2
Copper Aids in the formation of bone.3 Symptoms of copper deficiency include an anemia that is responsive to iron, lowered white-blood-cell count and loss of bone density (osteoporosis). Copper deficiency has been noted in persons taking 150 mg of zinc daily for more than a year.15
DHEA Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) helps generate estrogen and testosterone; increases the percentage of muscle mass; decreases the percentage of body fat; and stimulates bone deposition, thereby helping to prevent osteoporosis. DHEA therapy should be taken with caution, as some physicians believe that high doses suppress the body's natural ability to synthesize the hormone. Animal studies have shown that high doses can also lead to liver damage. For this reason it is important to take supplements of the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium to prevent oxidative damage to the liver.3
DL-phenylalanine Good for bone pain. Do not take if you suffer from panic attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, or PKU (phenylketonuria: an inherited inability to oxidize a metabolic product of phenylalanine)3
Horsetail French research suggests that silicon helps prevent osteoporosis and can be used to treat bone fractures. Horsetail is among the richest plant sources of this mineral, in the form of the compound monosilicic acid, which the body can readily use. Aging and low estrogen levels decrease the body's ability to absorb silicon, and supplemental forms are often difficult to absorb.7 There is at least one product on the market that produces silicon as stabilized orthosilicic acid (monomeric, single-chain silicic acid) which is much more bioavailable than other products.
Kelp A rich source of important minerals used in bone maintenance.3 However, it is not advisable for those with Hashimoto's autoimmune thyroid disease, and large pharmacologic doses of iodide (found in kelp) can lead to a temporary block of hormone synthesis and produce temporary hypothyroidism.15 Hypothyroidism slows down many metabolic processes including bone maintenance.
L-lysine Aids calcium absorption and improves connective tissue strength.3 A vital building block for proteins, lysine may be particularly helpful for menopausal women at risk for osteoporosis. It is also critical for optimal growth and bone formation in children. Food sources include cheese, milk, eggs, fish, lima beans, red meat, potatoes, soy products, yeast, all protein-rich foods. To improve skin and strengthen bones, a supplement of 500 mg may be taken 1 or 2 times a day, 30 minutes before meals.2
Magnesium Important in calcium and potassium uptake.3 Minerals that interact with magnesium are boron, calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and strontium. For each 100 mg of magnesium, take 200 mg of calcium, as this ratio increases the amount of magnesium the body can use. Those with kidney problems should not exceed 3000 mg of magnesium a day.2
Manganese Vital in mineral metabolism, and may help prevent osteoporosis. One study presented at the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, CA, showed that rats on a low-manganese diet developed porous bones.3 Bananas, bran, celery, cereals, egg yolks, green leafy vegetables, legumes, liver, milk, nuts, pineapple, shellfish and whole grains are excellent sources of manganese.2
Vitamin A Important for calcium metabolism.3 Among those with chronic kidney failure vitamin A may cause bone disease and hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood) caused by increased resorption of bone. Recommended dosage is 5,000 IU, which may be insufficient for those who live on junk food or otherwise have poor nutrition, those who smoke, are hospitalized or are recovering from surgery, diabetics, and those who are fighting infections or are exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals and pollutants. Food sources include fish liver oil, meats and animal products.15
Vitamin D Plays a role in calcium uptake3 and phosphorus metabolism, heart action, nervous system maintenance, normal blood clotting, and skin respiration. Mineral oil prevents maximum utilization of vitamin D. Best sources include egg yolks, organ meats, bone meal, sunlight. High levels of synthetic vitamin D can deplete magnesium and are also contraindicated if Digoxin (Lanoxin) is being taken. Excessive stored levels of vitamin D can cause calcium accumulation in the blood (hypercalcemia), which can also be an indication of parathyroid problem.2
Vitamin K Bone proteins are dependent on vitamin K for their synthesis. Food sources are usually adequate, with spinach, broccoli, cabbage, liver, and tomatoes as the best sources. Yogurt with active bacterial cultures and probiotics help create vitamin K in the intestines.2
Zinc Important for calcium uptake and immune function. Use zinc gluconate lozenges or OptiZinc for best absorption3 and do not exceed 100 mg/day. Suggested dosage ranges from 15 - 45 mg/day. Excess zinc can cause deficiencies in copper and iron, therefore a ratio of 10 parts zinc to 1 part copper is recommended. Dietary sources include whole grain products, brewer's yeast, wheat bran and germ, seafoods and animal meats which appear to be more bioavailable than vegetable sources.15


For other aspects about osteoporosis, choose from this list





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The Whole Story

Jump to any aspect, or read all the parts of this segment.
What is osteoporosis?
When does it start?
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis & Fracture
Diagnostic Tests
Improving & Maintaining Bone Health
Foods, Herbs & Supplements at a Glance






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Updated 05/16/2010