Most people know about calcium and vitamin D for strong bones. But new research suggests other powerful nutrients may work synergistically to prevent osteoporosis. Aren’t sure you need a bone supplement? Everyone loses bone mass with age. Individual risk depends on gender—80 percent of people with osteoporosis are women—family history, dietary calcium intake, and physical-activity level. Focusing on prevention during the crucial growing years and as you age makes sense: Osteoporosis often progresses slowly, without symptoms. Here’s what bones need.

By the numbers

10 million            Americans with osteoporosis

34 million            Americans with low bone density

Calcium

This bulky mineral won’t fit into a multivitamin so choose a separate supplement, preferably one combined with cofactors vitamin D and magnesium. Check labels for elemental calcium amounts per serving. Organic, or chelated, forms, like calcium citrate or ascorbate (which also contains bone-building vitamin C), are well absorbed any time, but take inorganic forms with food to improve absorption. If you take heartburn medications, choose a form like citrate, says Linda Massey, PhD, RD, a nutrition professor at Washington State University. “It’s well absorbed even in the absence of stomach-acid production.” 

Dose:  1,000 mg daily for adults ages 19–50, and for men up to age 71; 1,200 mg daily for women over age 51 and men over age 71. Youths ages 9 to 18 should aim for 1,300 mg daily from food and supplement sources. For optimal absorption, split into 500-mg doses (the amount the body can absorb at once) and take with magnesium and vitamin D.