Think calcium is all you need for strong bones? Think again. While we need calcium for strong bones, there are two additional supplements you may be missing: collagen and vitamin D. That’s right!
Collagen actually makes up 90% of our organic bone mass; it is essential for bone strength and protects against bone fractures and injury. If you’re not getting enough collagen in your daily diet, collagen supplementation may be critical. Ensuring you’re getting three of these necessary components is vital for long-term bone health.
Calcium often receives all the praise for its role in bone strength, but in reality, it’s only one key element we need to ensure that our bones stay strong and healthy. Besides calcium, both collagen and vitamin D are crucial building blocks of our bones. And most importantly, these three supplements work together to build, sustain and protect our bones over the course of our lifetime.
Why Calcium Isn’t Enough
Calcium is an important component of our long-term bone health, as it embeds within the collagen matrix to provide strength and stiffness of our bones. In the past, scientists believed that the loss of bone mineral density, or calcium, was the primary cause of increased fracture risk as we age. However, more recent studies have shown that in addition to low bone mineral density, there is another factor that can lead to increased bone fracture risk: that is not having enough collagen levels in your bones.
The Role of Collagen and Bone Health
Collagen is the second most abundant component of our bones, making up 90 percent of the organic (non-mineral) part and 30 percent of our total bone mass. Collagen is what gives our bones the toughness to withstand the physical stress we place on them daily. Collagen works hand in hand with calcium by making our bones softer and more flexible.
We need sufficient collagen to ensure bone strength throughout our lifetime. However, as we age, collagen levels throughout the entire body decline, including in our bones. As the collagen network weakens and breaks down during aging, our bones lose strength and become more brittle and susceptible to fracture. Studies have shown that the loss of collagen in our bones leads to a decrease in their mechanical integrity. And damage to the collagen network in our bones can lead to up to a 50% loss in bone strength and 30% loss in elasticity.(1) Supplementing with collagen throughout our lives can help to keep our bones stronger and more flexible, helping to avoid painful and debilitating fractures. Daily collagen supplementation is especially critical since most adults are not eating enough foods on a daily basis that are high in collagen (e.g. fish skin and bone broth).
Additionally, collagen helps with a process called bone remodeling in which bone tissue is continuously being replaced throughout our lifetime. However, when our peak bone mass and size occurs around age 20, our bone remodeling rate slows as we continue to age and our bodies slowly lose strength. It is crucial that our skeletons generate new bone to replace bones that are damaged and worn, but only about 15% of adult bone cells are replaced every year. (2) This rate can be increased with collagen supplementation. Studies have shown that the presence of collagen in our bone-building cells, osteoblasts, stimulates cell differentiation to produce new bone cells. This means stronger bones!
Vitamin D Helps with Absorption
Vitamin D is the nutrient that makes the absorption of calcium into our bones possible, as it promotes absorption of calcium from our intestine into the bloodstream. Vitamin D ensures enough calcium is being absorbed from the intestine so that bones do not have to release calcium. Without adequate Vitamin D, our bones will lose calcium, causing loss of bone mass and strength.
Vitamin D also promotes bone remodeling done by osteoblasts, our bone-building cells. These cells build bone by two main steps – first they secrete a collagen matrix that forms the organic component of bone, then they embed calcium, phosphorous, and other minerals into this matrix to harden and strengthen bones. Vitamin D promotes the mineralization of the collagen matrix of bone.
Should I Take Supplements?
Our bodies need sufficient supplies of calcium, collagen and vitamin D, as all three work together for the complete bone-building and bone strengthening process to occur. Sufficient calcium and vitamin D can be obtained directly from food, and Vitamin D is also made in our skin when exposed to sunlight, so supplementation may not always be necessary. However, we take in very little collagen directly through our diets; that is, unless you’re eating meat cartilage, fish skin, bone broth, etc on a regular basis. Therefore, supplementing with a collagen protein is a smart way to keep your bones healthy.
If you’re young, studies show that daily supplementation with collagen will keep your bones strong and healthy and help to prevent future injuries and fractures. If you’re older, clinical trials have shown that collagen supplementation can help reverse bone loss, increase bone density and protect bones from brittleness later in life.
The Key Takeaways:
• Calcium, collagen and vitamin D work together to help maintain bone health and strength
• Calcium embeds within the collagen matrix to provide strength and stiffness in our bones, while collagen gives our bones toughness to withstand daily physical stress
• As we age, we lose collagen which leads to a loss in bone strength and elasticity
• Supplementing with collagen can help keep our bones strong and flexible
• Supplementing with collagen also helps the rate in which our skeletons generate new bones (known as bone remodeling)
• Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium into our bones. Vitamin D also promotes bone remodeling
• Calcium and vitamin D can often be obtained directly from food. However, we rarely get sufficient collagen in our diets. Supplementing with collagen is a smart way to keep our bones healthy.
1. Demontiero, Oddom, Christopher Vidal, and Gustavo Duque. “Aging and bone loss: new insights for the clinician.” Therapeutic advances in musculoskeletal disease 4.2 (2012): 61-76.
2. Wang, X., et al. “Age-related changes in the collagen network and toughness of bone.” Bone 31.1 (2002): 1-7.