human squeleton   

Healthy Bones at Every Age


Bone health is important at every age and stage of life. The skeleton is our body's storage bank for calcium — a mineral that is necessary for our bodies to function. Calcium is especially important as a building block of bone tissue.

We must get calcium from the foods we eat. If we do not have enough calcium in our diets to keep our bodies functioning, calcium is removed from where it is stored in our bones. Over time, this causes our bones to grow weaker.

Loss of bone strength can lead to osteoporosis — a disorder in which bones become very fragile and more likely to break. Older adults with osteoporosis are most vulnerable to breaks in the wrist, hip, and spine. These fractures can seriously limit mobility and independence.

Fortunately, there are many things we can do at every age to keep our bones strong and healthy.

Peak Bone Mass

Our maximum bone size and strength is called peak bone mass. Genes play a large role in how much peak bone we have. For example, the actual size and structure of a person's skeleton is determined by genetic factors.

Although peak bone mass is largely determined by our genes, there are lifestyle factors — such as diet and exercise — that can influence whether we reach our full bone mass potential.

There is a limited time that we can influence our peak bone mass. The best time to build bone density is during years of rapid growth. Childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood are the times when we can significantly increase our peak bone mass through diet and exercise. Not surprisingly, we can also make choices that decrease peak bone mass, such as smoking, poor nutrition, inactivity, and excessive alcohol intake.

Most people will reach their peak bone mass between the ages of 25 and 30. By the time we reach age 40, however, we slowly begin to lose bone mass. We can, however, take steps to avoid severe bone loss over time. For most of us, bone loss can be significantly slowed through proper nutrition and regular exercise.

Although everyone will lose bone with age, people who developed a higher peak bone mass when young are better protected against osteoporosis and related fractures later in life.

Some people, however, are at higher risk for bone loss and osteoporosis because of problems with the way their bodies remodel bone. A healthy diet and exercise can help, but bone will still be lost at a faster rate. The good news is that in recent years, medications have been developed to treat this metabolic problem. In severe cases, bone loss may even be reversed with newer, bone-forming medications.

Bone Health at Every Stage

There are things we can do at every stage of life to ensure good bone health. Especially important is making sure we get enough calcium and Vitamin D. The sections below provide guidelines from the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies on calcium and Vitamin D daily intake at every age for the general public.

Please note that some people may require different dosages of these supplements. For example, people who live in areas with little sun, those with darker skin, and people who are obese may need more Vitamin D than the recommended daily amount. The upper safe limit for people older than 9 years of daily Vitamin D is 4000 IU, but talk to your doctor about the best dose for you. Also, be aware that taking calcium and Vitamin D at higher than recommended levels may cause adverse side effects.


Calcium needs vary with age. The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies provides guidelines on the amount of calcium needed each day.

Recommended Daily Allowance in Milligrams (mg)

Life Stage Group  Recommended Daily Calcium Intake
Women and men 9 to 18 years  1,300 mg
Women and men 19 to 50 years  1,000 mg
Women 51 to 70 years  1,200 mg
Men 51 to 70 years  1,000 mg
Women and men > 70 years  1,200 mg
Pregnant or nursing women 14 to 18 years       1,300 mg
Pregnant or nursing women 19 to 50 years  1,000 mg

Vitamin D

Without Vitamin D, our bodies cannot effectively absorb calcium, which is essential to good bone health.

Children who lack Vitamin D develop the condition called rickets, which causes bone weakness, bowed legs, and other skeletal deformities, such as stooped posture. Adults with very low Vitamin D can develop a condition called osteomalacia (soft bone). Like rickets, osteomalacia can also cause bone pain and deformities of long bones.

Vitamin D Recommended Dietary Allowance

The FNB recommends 400 International Units (IU) of Vitamin D for infants during the first year of life. The RDA for everyone from age 1 through 70 years is 600 IU. Recent research, however, supports that the body needs at least 1000 IU per day for good bone health, starting at age 5 years.

Many foods contain some Vitamin D, however, few contain enough to meet the daily recommended levels for optimal bone health.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children take Vitamin D supplements.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, children were routinely given cod liver oil for a range of medicinal purposes. When cod liver oil was tied to the prevention and treatment of rickets, Vitamin D was discovered. Soon after, Vitamin D was added to milk — one glass of milk contains about 100 IU of Vitamin D. As a result, parents stopped using cod liver oil. Because today's children do not drink as much milk as in the past, it is difficult for them to get enough Vitamin D from milk. In addition, other dairy products are not typically supplemented with Vitamin D. Getting enough Vitamin D from what we eat is very difficult.

Although our bodies can make Vitamin D in our skin when it is exposed to good sunlight, it is very important to protect our skin by using sunscreen when we are outdoors. This blocks the excessive UV radiation that can cause skin cancer. Sunscreen does, however, also block our skin's ability to make Vitamin D. This is why doctors often recommend Vitamin D supplements for both adults and children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children — from infancy through adolescence — take Vitamin D supplements.

Other Key Nutrients in Bone Health

Many other nutrients — most found naturally and at sufficient levels in a typical diet — contribute to bone health and growth. They include:

  • Phosphorus. A major mineral in the body's bone crystal, phosphorus is found in dairy products and meat. Vitamin D improves phosphorus absorption in the intestine and kidney.
  • Magnesium. Primarily found in bone crystals, magnesium improves bone strength. Older adults are more likely to be deficient in magnesium. Calcium supplements that contain magnesium can help.
  • Vitamin K. Necessary for bone formation and mineralization, Vitamin K also is important for blood clotting, and may assist in channeling calcium directly to the bone rather than the blood vessels.
  • Vitamin C. Collagen is the main protein in bone, and Vitamin C is necessary for collagen synthesis. Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits and tomatoes and in many vegetables.
  • Vitamin A. Vitamin A is necessary for cells to differentiate normally and for normal skeletal growth, and also is extremely important for eye health. Vitamin A is available in liver, eggs, butter, green leafy vegetables and carrots. Too little vitamin A is a major cause of blindness worldwide. In contrast, too much vitamin A can cause bone loss and increase the risk of hip fracture. The animal source supplements (retinols) may cause toxicity but plant sources  (B carotene) do not. Daily intake of retinols should be less than 10,000 IU.
Herbal remedies beneficial to bones
(Withania somnifera)
(Astragalus membranaceus)
(Bacopa monnieri)
(Arctium lappa)
*Black Cohosh
(Cimicifuga racemosa)
(Focus vesiculosus)
*Celery seeds
(Apium graviolens)
*Chanca piedra
(Phyllanthus niruri)
*Ceylon cinnamon
(Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
*Cat's claw
(Uncaria tomentosa)
*Dandelion root
(Taraxacum officinale)
(Trigonella foenum graecum)
*Ginkgo biloba
(Ginkgo biloba)
*Horse chestnut
(Aesculus hippocastanum)
*Hawthorn berry
(Crateagus oxicanthus)
*Horny goat weed
(Epimedium sagittatum)
*Juniper berry
(Juniperus communis)
*Milk thistle
(Sylibum marianum)
(Lepidium meyenii)
*Red clover
(Trifolium pratense)
*American Skullcap
(Scutellaria lateriflora)
*Saw palmetto
(Serenoa repens/serrulata)
*Stinging nettle
(Urtica dioica)
*St John's wort
(Hypericum perforatum)
(Smilax aristolochiifolia)
*Schizandra berry
(Schisandra chinensis)
(Agnus castus)
*Valerian root
(Valeriana officinalis)
*White willow
(Salix alba)
(Achillea millefolium)
*Lion's mane
(Hericium erinaceous
(Lentinula edodes