Supplement the Smart Way for Spinal Bone Health

Thinking of adding a calcium or vitamin D supplement to your daily regimen? Read this first.

The bones in your spine—and throughout your body—need nutrients to rebuild and stay strong throughout your whole life. Eating a balanced diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium is the best way to feed your bones and ward off serious spinal problems, such as spinal fractures and osteoporosis. But, inadequate diets or medical issues can create nutritional gaps—that’s where a vitamin or mineral supplement comes in.
Assorted vitamins and nutritional supplements on a serving spoon, with blurred colorful fruits in the background.Your dietary needs change throughout life, so adding a supplement as you age may help you stay healthy. Photo Source: aren’t magic bullets, but they can be a health safety net when used properly. This article helps you understand the reality of nutritional supplements—specifically bone health boosters like calcium and vitamin D—and offers tips to help you get the most from them.

Supplements Simply Supplement

Supplements, such as calcium and vitamin D for bone health, fill nutritional gaps. They’re not usually necessary if you get the key nutrients you need from a healthy and balanced diet.

Some people use supplements as a replacement for a food, which they are not intended to be. Food supplies multiple nutrients, along with substances other than nutrients that are beneficial for your health and not necessarily found in supplements.

Should You Take a Supplement to Strengthen Your Spine?

Your dietary needs change throughout life, so adding a supplement as you age or during pregnancy may help you stay healthy. Like other nutrients, calcium and vitamin D requirements vary based on age and sex (you can figure out how much you should get each day in Calcium, Vitamin D, and Magnesium: The Big 3 for Bone Health).

When it comes to protecting your spinal bone health, certain people may need a supplement to ensure their bodies are processing calcium and vitamin D properly. This includes:

  • People who have had an intestinal bypass procedure
  • People who have food absorption difficulties, such as those with Celiac or Crohn’s disease
  • People who eat few or no dairy products, such as vegans or those with lactose intolerance

Wondering whether a calcium supplement is right for you? Read Calcium Is Essential for Strong Back and Neck Bones.It contains some simple ways to determine if you’d benefit from a calcium supplement, but the only way to definitively know is by having a conversation with your doctor.

Your Doctor and Pharmacist Help Ensure Supplement Safety

Because you can purchase a nutritional supplement over the counter, many people incorrectly assume that they are completely safe. However, dietary supplements can interfere with the absorption and action of other supplements and medications, and they can be toxic when taken in high doses.

For example:

  • Calcium and iron supplements can prevent each other from being fully absorbed when they are taken together. This is true of most minerals, including magnesium, because they compete with each other for absorption into the body so they are best taken separately.
  • At the same time, supplements taken together can cause too much of one or the other to be absorbed. This is the case with high-dose vitamin D supplements, which can cause too much calcium to be absorbed.
  • Too much calcium may increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Also, taking more than 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium per day (or more than 600 mg at one time) is pointless, because your body cannot process that much calcium at once.

The question you need answered is this: Are your supplements helping or hurting you? The best way to know for sure is to talk to your doctor whenever you change your medication or supplement regimen—even if you’re simply adding a new vitamin to the mix.

Another great but often underused resource for supplement advice is your pharmacist. He or she will know whether your mix of supplements and medicines poses any risk of negative interaction. And, if you’re shopping for a supplement, your pharmacist can help recommend a trustworthy product.

Calcium Supplement Success Tips

If you and your doctor think a calcium supplement may help support your spinal bone health, use these tips to get the most benefit:

  • Purchase supplements with the USP symbol, which indicates that the supplement has been independently evaluated and certified.
  • Take your supplement every day, ideally with a meal.
  • Take calcium supplements in doses no higher than 500-600 mg, no more than 2-3 times a day, for a maximum of 1,000-1,200 mg.
  • Drink plenty of water with your supplement, as some types can cause constipation.
  • Don’t take your calcium supplement with a high-fiber meal or laxative, as fiber can interfere with calcium absorption.

Supplements: Not Magic Pills, but They May Support Spine Health

The key takeaway about supplements is that they’re just that—supplements. They can help fill nutritional gaps, but they should not be used as a replacement for a healthy diet. Eating foods rich in calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium is the best way to build strong spinal bones and prevent debilitating health problems, such as spinal fracture and osteoporosis. If you have concerns about whether your diet is meeting your nutritional needs, talk to your doctor. 

Updated on: 07/30/19
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