If you think you seeing more broken bones today than in the past, you are right. According to a Mayo Clinic study, forearm fractures have risen over 30% in boys, and over 50% in girls in the past 3 decades.
Does It Really Do a Body Good?
A common misconception is that drinking plenty of milk is all you need to build strong bones. But let’s take a look at some facts:
- Studies show that countries with the highest milk consumption also have the highest rates of fractures and osteoporosis. The Harvard Nurses Study followed 78,000 women for a 12-year period and found that milk did not protect against bone fractures. In fact, those who drank three glasses of milk per day had more fractures than those who rarely drank milk.
- A majority of the population does not actually have the ability to digest milk at all, which can interfere with nutrient absorption.
- Studies also show that cows milk consumption is linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, especially prostate and ovarian. Read more about the possible hormonal implications of drinking milk.
- Vitamin A is important for bones, but milk supplies too high a dose of vitamin A (in the retinol form), which can cause bones to be weaker, according to Harvard Health. Avoid foods and multivitamins with the retinol form of vitamin A (choose instead beta-carotene).
- The ratio of calcium to magnesium is not in good proportion in milk. Milk contains a 10 to 1 ratio of calcium to magnesium, where the optimal ratio is 2:1. Too much calcium without magnesium or other co-factors is not good for bones, and has even been linked to increased risk of heart attacks and kidney stones.
- Kids with attention or hyperactivity issues might want to consider taking a vacation from dairy, which has been linked to ADD-like symptoms in certain kids with sensitivities (read this article from Gaia, and this one from author Kris Carr.
So if milk doesn’t do some bodies good after all, how should kids get their calcium and build strong bones?
Four tips for building strong bones:
1. Try to include some non-dairy sources of calcium in the diet each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following calcium intakes: 500mg per day (1-3 year olds), 800mg per day (4-8 year olds), 1300mg per day (9-18 year olds).
Non-dairy sources of calcium:
- canned salmon
- bok choy
- sesame seeds
- chia seeds
- non-dairy milk alternatives, such as coconut, almond or rice (I do not recommend soy milks, read more)
- Calcium supplements*
2. Make sure your kids are getting the necessary co-factors.
Calcium tends to get all the credit for building strong bones, but there are certain co-factors needed to get the calcium into the bones. Consider this analogy: a moving company would never send a truck and just one worker. In order to move heavy items and get them delivered to the right place, that mover is going to need helpers. Similarly, without the right helpers (co-factors), all the calcium can’t be delivered into the bones.
Key Calcium Co-Factors:
Vitamin D – Critical for calcium absorption, low levels of vitamin D can be associated with rickets and osteoporosis. The best source is the sun, and so using sunscreen blocks the skin from not only the UVA/UVB rays, but also vitamin D. It is estimated that 70% of Americans are now deficient in vitamin D. Severely low levels are also linked to an increase in certain cancers. The AAP recommends 400 IU of vitamin D per day for children, although that could be inadequate if blood levels are extremely low. Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns. Sources:
- Cod liver oils/some fish oils – such as the Mango Peach flavored Barleans Omega Swirl
- Supplements – you can absorb it through the skin, so some sunscreens are coming with vitamin D now, such as Ocean Potion. Look for vitamin D3, which is the best form.
Magnesium – The forth most abundant mineral in the body and needed for more than 300 biochemical processes, including helping Vitamin D to be absorbed. About two thirds of all magnesium in our body is found in our bones. It is estimated that over 70% of the population is deficient in magnesium. Learn more about the RDA for magnesium and more. Sources:
- cacao powder (such as Sunfood)
- spinach and other dark leafy greens
- cashews and almonds
- Pumpkin, hemp & sesame seeds
- whole grains
- You can also absorb magnesium through your skin from salt baths and magnesium sprays
Vitamin K – Best known for it’s role in managing blood clotting, vitamin K also plays a key role in making sure calcium gets delivered to the bones, and not to the arteries (poorly absorbed and high dose calcium can raise the risk of arterial calcification & heart attack). Sources:
- leafy greens
- brussels sprouts
- Sea vegetables (read more)
- Greens Powders (such as Green Vibrance)
It is also important for bones to get trace minerals which can be found in sea or pink Himalayan salt, and other foods grown in mineral rich soils.
Try making this bone-building Choco-banana super smoothie – which contains calicium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K, trace minerals, and more!
3. Get Kids Moving!
A study published Pediatrics found that sedentary teens had lower bone density by age 18 than more active ones. The importance of weight bearing activities for bones is demonstrated by astronauts – they can experience a 30% decrease in bone strength after just 6 months spent in space without gravity. Although swimming and riding a scooter is better than sitting on the couch; activities that have impact like gymnastics and jumping rope is better for building bones. Impact exercise puts stress on the bones, which causes the bones to become stronger and more dense.
4. Know Your Bone ‘Foes’
There are a number of foods and substances that can work against the bone building process.
- Acidic Foods – too much protein, coffee, sugars are all acidifying to the body/blood. Dairy is also acid-forming (when paired with probiotics it is less so, such as yogurt). When we are too acidic, the body will try to buffer the acidity with calcium, which prevents it from getting into where it should go – the bones.
- Sugar – in addition to being acidifying to the system, sugar causes vitamin c and copper deficiencies, and interferes with calcium and magnesium absorption.
- Sodas – drinking colas was found to increase the risk of osteoporosis in a study out of Tufts University.
- Digestive disorders such as celiac disease have been linked to increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures. If we are not properly digesting our foods, we are also not properly absorbing all the nutrients. Kids with frequent breaks might want to be checked for food sensitivities/allergies. Some of the most common food allergies/intolerances are dairy, gluten, wheat, eggs, soy, nuts, and shellfish. Learn more about signs of celiac disease.
- Other factors can interfere with bone building such as taking steroid medications for an extended period. A visit to the doctor might be prudent if there have been frequent/recurring breaks, unexplained bone pain, fractures from minor impacts, and poor slow growth. Contact your doctor or pediatrician with any concerns. Read Kids and Broken Bones – When Is it a Warning SIgn? and Building Strong Bones in Kids.
*Foods are the body’s best source of nutrition, as they contain a synergistic combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to be best used and absorbed by the body, but high quality supplements can help to fill in the gaps. Read more about choosing a quality calcium supplement.
Watch Sara talk about Building Strong Bones in Kids on Fox 5 San Diego.
*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons experiencing problems or with questions about their health or medications, should consult their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before taking the above foods, herbs, vitamins or supplements to be sure there are no interactions. Persons wishing to cease taking prescription medications should do so only after consulting with their doctor.
©2012, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.