Initial Posting: 9/26/2015    Last Update: 5/10/2019
Question: Do any supplements help prevent or treat osteoporosis?
Answer: Osteoporosis is a disease in which the density and quality of the bone are reduced, making it weak and brittle. A variety of supplements offer potential benefit, although in limited situations. (Use the links below for details.)
Adequate intakes of calcium (and vitamin D) during youth are important for building strong bone, and it's important to get adequate calcium throughout life to help maintain bone. However, in postmenopausal women, calcium supplements (with vitamin D) may only modestly protect against osteoporosis. Most adults currently get enough calcium for bone health, and some postmenopausal women who take supplements may be getting too much calcium, which can increase the risk of kidney stones and stroke.
Vitamin D may help to increase bone density, but only in people with low blood levels of vitamin D (below 20 ng/mL) and with adequate calcium intake. It may also help to reduce the risk of fractures and falls. However, getting too much vitamin D could be detrimental to bone health.
Magnesium deficiency can increase the risk of osteoporosis. In people with inadequate intake, supplementing with magnesium can increase bone mineral density.
At doses higher than nutritional needs, vitamin K supplements have been found to increase bone density in healthy postmenopausal women, and higher intakes of vitamin K from foods has been associated with reduced risk of fractures in elderly men and women.
A form of strontium (strontium ranelate) available by prescription in Europe, but not in the U.S., has shown promise in reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis as well as increasing bone density and reducing the occurrence fractures in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. Strontium supplements in the U.S. typically contain strontium citrate and, while it is absorbed into bone (Moise, Bone 2014), there is no research showing it to be effective against osteoporosis. Also, be aware that too much strontium may weaken bones. In some studies, up to 680 mg of elemental strontium from either strontium ranelate or strontium citrate has been taken for between 3 to 4 years without serious adverse effects (Meunier, N Engl J Med 2004; Moise, Bone 2014); however, Health Canada has warned that an increased risk of cardiovascular events has been reported in some people who have a history of, or risk factors for cardiovascular disease who took a daily dose of 680 mg of strontium ranelate. The agency advises those with risk factors for cardiovascular disease should not take strontium supplements, and that those taking strontium for longer than 6 months consult their healthcare provider (See the Warning for more information). Extremely large doses (1.5 - 3% of dietary intake) have been reported to decrease bone calcium in animals (Brandi, AM J Med 1993). If you decide to use strontium, take it at least 2 hours before or after taking calcium or magnesium, as these may reduce absorption of strontium (and other minerals) (Protelos Product Information 2014).
Very preliminary research also suggests that boron might be beneficial for osteoporosis, although this has not been studied in clinical trials.