3 Crucial Questions to Ask Before Buying Osteoporosis Supplements

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Osteoporosis can be a silent disease, with no apparent symptoms until a bone breaks. Fragility fractures most commonly occur in the wrists, spine or hips and can lead to hospitalization, disability, or even death. Reducing the risk of bone fractures is the highest priority for anyone with osteoporosis.

The surprising thing is that many medications, vitamins, and other dietary supplements are evaluated for their effect on bone mineral density rather than a much more important outcome: reducing bone fractures.

If you are purchasing dietary supplements to support bone health, you might be making a savvy investment, or you might be throwing money down the drain. The difference is in the details. Following are 3 questions to ask when evaluating the quality of supplements to support bone health.

Question 1: Have the ingredients been shown in clinical trials to reduce bone fractures?

Human clinical trials are the highest and most reliable form of scientific evidence. Supplementation with calcium and vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of bone fractures by about 15%. Strontium ranelate reduces the risk of bone fractures by as much as 41%. However, the most powerful fracture-reducing nutrient is the MK4 form of vitamin K2. More than 7,000 volunteers have been studied in 28 clinical trials using MK4 (45 mg/day). With researchers repeatedly concluding that MK4 can grow stronger bones and reduce fractures by more than 80%.

Other nutrients that are often included in formulas to support bone health (e.g., magnesium, boron, omega-3 fatty acids, soy isoflavones) have never been shown in human clinical trials to reduce bone fractures.

Question 2: Are the product ingredients in the same form as those used in the clinical trials?

Look carefully at the nutrient forms. Strontium has only been shown to reduce fracture risk when taken in the form of strontium ranelate—a form that is not even available in the United States. Vitamin K2 has only been shown to reduce fracture risk when taken in the form of MK4—you might see it in the form of MK7 instead. However, MK7 has never been shown to reduce fractures.

Question 3: Are the ingredients in the doses used in clinical trials?

The dosages of calcium and vitamin D vary across clinical trials, so it’s not always easy to determine the ideal dose. Strontium ranelate has been tested at dosages ranging from 500-2000mg per day, with inconsistent results. Vitamin K2 (MK4) has been consistently evaluated at a dosage of 45mg per day in numerous clinical trials to reduce bone fractures.

Supporting the health of your bones as you age is an excellent investment. But the only way you can make sure you’re getting your money’s worth in dietary supplements is to be an informed consumer and ask the right questions. Start by asking the 3 questions listed here of any product you’re considering taking for your bones, and you can be sure that you get the best value for your hard-earned money.

References

Cockayne S, Adamson J, Lanham-New S, Shearer MJ, Gilbody S, Torgerson DJ. Vitamin K and the Prevention of Fractures: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(12):1256-1261. [Article]
Meunier PJ, Roux C, Seeman E, et al. The effects of strontium ranelate on the risk of vertebral fracture in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis. N Engl J Med. 2004;350(5):459-468. [Article]

Meunier PJ, Slosman DO, Delmas PD, et al. Strontium ranelate: dose-dependent effects in established postmenopausal vertebral osteoporosis–a 2-year randomized placebo controlled trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002;87(5):2060-2066. [Article]

Weaver CM, Alexander DD, Boushey CJ, et al. Calcium plus vitamin D supplementation and risk of fractures: an updated meta-analysis from the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Osteoporos Int. 2015. [Article]

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