I get all my vitamins from food. All vitamins are the same. Are vitamins really safe?
I’m concerned that so many women aren’t getting the whole story about supplements. Almost daily, I hear a wide range of reasons why women aren’t taking a specialized nutrient supplement protocol as part of their bone-building program.
If this resonates with you, why not take a few minutes to reconsider what I call “the top vitamin myths” and perhaps reevaluate your position on the value of vitamin/mineral supplements for maximum bone health.
Myth #1: If you eat well, you don’t need vitamins
For most women (including myself!), it’s just not possible to get enough of all the bone-essential vitamins and minerals through diet alone. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Your body needs a wide range of nutrients in adequate doses every day(at least 20 for optimal bone building). Most of us have days when our diet isn’t the best, and a multivitamin helps fill the gaps.
- Key nutrients need the right amounts of other nutrients to be effective.For example, vitamin C appears to enhance both calcium absorption and vitamin D’s effect on bone metabolism and calcium and magnesium function together so that a deficiency of one markedly affects the metabolism of the other.
- Your body absolutely needs trace minerals — like copper, zinc and manganese — which can be very hard to get in adequate amounts today with food alone. For example, 75% of all diets fail to contain even the Recommended Daily Allowance of 900 mcg for copper. Our zinc intake averages only 50% the RDA, and our manganese intake is generally inadequate.
Myth #2: Discount vitamins work as well as more expensive vitamins
I like a good bargain as much as anyone, but many inexpensive multivitamins are poor quality, low on active nutrients, and full of additives. To get the most benefit from your multivitamin, choose one that is pharmaceutical grade, contains the most bioavailable forms, and doesn’t contain preservatives, sugar, or artificial flavoring, filler, dyes or coloring. The cost may be higher, but the results are definitely worth it.
Myth #3: Vitamins aren’t regulated for safety
You may have heard scare stories in the news about vitamins, but vitamins ARE regulated. You can be assured of a vitamin’s safety if it is sourced and manufactured according to highest quality standards, which are externally validated to meet or exceed the FDA’s GMP’s (Good Manufacturing Practices) regulations.
Obviously, I feel strongly about the importance of multivitamins! Over the many years of clinical practice I have found nutritional supplementation to be essential for overcoming the “repair deficit” associated with low bone density and bone weakness. The Better Bones approach is to build better bones and a better body, and in today’s world this requires high quality, targeted nutrient supplementation.
Finally, I’m at times asked why I developed my own line of bone-building supplements. The truth is, after extensive research for my book “Better Bones, Better Body,” I tried to find an existing supplement to recommend to my clients — and I couldn’t find one that included everything a woman needs for optimal bone health. That’s why I developed the Better Bones supplements to be used along with the Better Bones diet and lifestyle advice I give my clients. It is my goal and mission to provide you with all the support you need to develop life-long bone strength and body-wide vitality.
Even if you eat a healthy diet — including lots of fruits and vegetables — you may be surprised to learn that you’re not getting the amount of nutrients you think you are. That’s because research shows the vitamin and mineral content of many common fruits and vegetables has been declining in the last decades.
Declines of up to 75%
You would need to eat 2½ times as much broccoli today to get the same amount of calcium as you would have in 1950. And twice as many onions to get the same amount of iron. In fact, a study comparing the nutrient value for 43 garden vegetables from 1950 to 1999 shows an average decrease in nutrient content of 25-50%.
Research on popular fruits like apples and oranges shows the same significant losses of vitamin and mineral content. Eleven of 12 fruits showed reduced amounts of iron, 10 with loss in calcium and 9 with loss of vitamin A. The drop in iron in several fruits — including oranges, tangerines and strawberries — was quite extreme. Tangerines dropped 65% for calcium content and 75% for iron (I’m not sure what caused the increase for vitamin A — perhaps it’s related to the fertilizers used).
What’s the nutrient loss for your favorite vegetable or fruit?
Here are more examples of nutrient loss in vegetables and fruit using the USDA’s standard nutrient data for 1950 and for 1999.
Here’s another intriguing example about nutrient decline. During the 1960s scientists found an Arctic campsite of explorers from 100 years earlier, which included a can of peaches frozen in heavy syrup. Somebody had the forethought to test the peaches. Even accounting for the food value lost from being frozen, the canned peaches from the 1860s were 50% higher in every measurable nutrient than modern canned peaches.
If you are concerned about getting enough nutrients to maintain good health and build bone, it’s still a good idea to increase your intake of vegetables and fruits. That said, I strongly suggest you consider supplementation to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need — no matter what you eat — especially if you are trying to build bone and overcome years of neglect.
Davis, D. R., M. D. Epp, and H. D. Riordan. 2004. Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 23(6):669–682.
Jack, A. 1998. Nutrition under siege. One Peaceful World Journal, Spring:1, 7–8.
Jack, A. 2005. America’s vanishing nutrients: Decline in fruit and vegetable quality poses serious health and environmental risks. Amberwaves, Becket, MA.
Mayer, A. M. 1997. Historical changes in the mineral content of fruits and vegetables. British Food Journal 99(6):207–211.
Are you hearing more coughs and sneezes now than you did during the dead of winter? I’m not surprised, given that the change of season can up your chances of catching a cold.
When I feel the sniffles coming on, I load up on zinc. It’s been shown to help to shorten the length of a cold when taken at high doses within 24 hours of exposure to a cold.
This is yet another example of how everything you do for your bones is good for your body, as zinc is one of the key minerals for bone health.
The latest research about zinc
Researchers are constantly adding to the knowledge about the bone benefits of zinc. Most recently, a study in Iran showed that postmenopausal women with osteopenia or osteoporosis had significantly lower than normal levels of dietary intake of zinc as well as calcium and magnesium. On the basis of their results and previously published studies, the researchers suggest “mineral supplementation especially with calcium, magnesium, zinc and perhaps copper may have beneficial effect on bone density in post-menopausal women with low bone density.”
Are you getting enough zinc?
The average person in the U.S. takes in about 46–63% of the recommended daily allowance of zinc. That’s 8 mg a day a day (which is the amount found in Better Bones Basics). The common therapeutic range for bone health for the same woman is 12-30 mg a day (with my Better Bones Builder containing 25 mg). And in case you’re wondering how much zinc you need to fight off a cold, zinc lozenges with a dose of 75 mg showed benefits!
Hemilä, H. (2011). Zinc Lozenges May Shorten the Duration of Colds: A Systematic Review. The Open Respiratory Medicine Journal, 5, 51–58. http://doi.org/10.2174/1874306401105010051. (accessed 2/9/16 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136969/)
Mahdavi-Roshan, M., Ebrahimi, M., & Ebrahimi, A. (2015). Copper, magnesium, zinc and calcium status in osteopenic and osteoporotic post-menopausal women. Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism, 12(1), 18–21. http://doi.org/10.11138/ccmbm/2015.12.1.018 (accessed 2/9/16 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4469220/)
For my 16th birthday lunch, as a much respected U.S. exchange student in Cali, Colombia, I was presented with a cup of light broth which proudly sported a chicken foot. I was a bit homesick anyway and this drove me over the cliff — I sat literally crying in my chicken-foot soup.
Since then, I’ve learned to enjoy bone broth as a warming drink. Now bone broth is all the rage, and while I wouldn’t depend on it for my bone-building minerals, it’s a good substitute for coffee or tea or that afternoon snack. Here are some good reasons to make and drink bone broth, along with a new recipe I just tried.
Bone broth benefits
- Bone broth strengthens the immune system, as documented with chicken broth. Your grandmother was right.
- Bone broth is easily digestible, helping to heal the lining of the gut.
- The gelatin found in bones, cartilage, tendons, and skin is hydrophilic, meaning that it attacks attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices thereby supporting proper digestion.
- Bone broth can help to replace electrolytes after intense exercise and can be used as an excellent sports recovery drink.
- Most importantly, making our own broth gives us a chance to return to the kitchen to prepare homemade, whole foods from scratch.
Bone broth has been considered a healing food for centuries
When making bone broth, traditional Chinese way of preparing bone broth in a highly acidic medium yields a much higher mineral content than the broth we normally prepare. Prolonged cooking for 8 hours or more also appears to increase mineral content. Using bones with marrow and adding bone-building vegetables like kale, collards, and onions to your stock pot increases its nutrient composition.
From an anthropological perspective, bone broth is likely to have been around since humans were able to boil water. Bone-based stocks of all sorts exist in every meat-eating traditional cuisine and today a pot of stock is always on the back burner in most in high-end restaurants. What’s more, long before humans could boil water, they cracked bones for the rich marrow inside. Today, many people around the world chew on the ends of soft bones, like those of chicken.
A bone broth recipe for you to try
I made this recipe this weekend and got seven quarts of delicious chicken broth. Give it a try and let me know. Bon appetite!
GOLDEN CHICKEN BROTH
Makes about 6 quarts
3 pounds chicken feet
5 pounds chicken wings
7 pounds chicken backs and necks
3 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
6 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, scrubbed and coarsely chopped
5 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
Fine sea salt
Place all the chicken parts in a 16-quart pot and add cold water to cover by 2 to 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat for about 1 hour, skimming off the foamy impurities every 15 to 20 minutes.
As soon as the liquid boils, reduce the heat to low and pull the pot to one side so it is partially off the burner.
Simmer for 1 hour 30 minutes, skimming once or twice.
Add the onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves, peppercorns and parsley; and push them down into the liquid.
Continue to simmer for 3 to 5 hours, checking once or twice to make sure that the bones are still fully submerged.
Use a spider skimmer to remove the solids and discard. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer. Season with salt to taste and let it cool.
Transfer the cooled broth to storage containers (leaving any sediment in the bottom of the pot) and refrigerate overnight. Spoon off any solidified fat. Store the broth for up to 5 days in the refrigerator or freeze for up to 6 months.
Recipe from Brodo: A Bone Broth Cookbook by Marco Canora
Rosen, H. N., H. Salemme, A. J. Zeind, A. C. Moses, A. Shapiro, and S. L. Greenspan. 1994. Chicken soup revisited: Calcium content of soup increases with duration of cooking. Calcified Tissue International 54:486–488.
Before we jump into what’s new in 2016, we’ve got a bit more news about one of 2015’s hottest topics — prunes. I’m still receiving questions about my blog report about 6 prunes a day decreasing bone breakdown. Many readers wondered how to eat prunes, and if they did, would they gain weight or get too much sugar.
Here are the answers to your most commonly asked questions about prunes:
What are some more easy ways to eat more prunes?
One of the simplest ways to eat more prunes is to puree them and use as a spread or sweetener in fruit-based smoothies. To do this, make prune puree by putting one cup of pitted prunes and 6 Tablespoons of hot water in a food processor and mixing until smooth. My favorite way to use the prune puree is as like jam on toast, and another good breakfast option is to include warm prunes with oatmeal. Many tagines or stews also use prunes. Maybe you even discovered some of your favorite holiday recipes included prunes. Let me know your prune ideas in the comments section below.
Will I gain weight eating so many prunes?
No. Studies have shown that adding 12 prunes a day to the diet did not cause weight gain even though it added 380 calories a day. In fact, neither weight or body mass index, nor waist to hip ratio, nor percent body fat was significantly affected. Several researchers have reported this phenomenon suggesting that foods with stool softening properties in higher fiber content do not seem to cause weight gain.
Does eating so many prunes cause digestive issues?
In the vast majority of women studied, even the use of an unusually high daily amount of prunes didn’t cause digestive distress. If you do experience digestive issues, cooking the prunes and serving them warm helps make them more digestible for many and spreading them out through the day is also helpful.
Do prunes need to be cooked to get the benefits?
No, you don’t need to cook prunes to get the benefits, but prunes may be more difficult to digest uncooked.
Aren’t dried prunes high in sugar?
Look for unsweetened prunes. According to prune researcher Dr. Bahram Arjmandi, “Because prunes are low on the glycemic scale, they should not be a problem for people with diabetes.”
Also, I’ve found that prunes are a natural craving corrector, so eating a few prunes may actually keep you from craving other sugary treats.
Finally, here’s news about more benefits of prunes… In addition to reducing bone breakdown as reported in my previous blog, eating prunes has been shown to increase the markers of bone formation. Prunes also appear to down regulate the inflammatory, bone breakdown factor known as RANKL. This is the same mechanism of action of the popular osteoporosis drug, Denosumab (trade name Prolia®).
Arjmandi, B. H., D. A. Khalil, E. A. Lucas, A. Georgis, B. J. Stoecker, C. Hardin, M. E. Payton, and R. A. Wild. 2002. Dried plums improve indices of bone formation in postmenopausal women. Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine 11(1):61–68.
Bu, S. Y., E. A. Lucas, M. Franklin, D. Marlow, D. J. Brackett, E. A. Boldrin, L. Devareddy, B. H. Arjmandi, and B. J. Smith. 2007. Comparison of dried plum supplementation and intermittent PTH in restoring bone in osteopenic orchidectomized rats. Osteoporosis International 18(7):931–942.
Franklin, M., S. Y. Bu, M. R. Lerner, E. a. Lancaster, D. Bellmer, D. Marlow, S. A. Lightfoot, B. H. Arjmandi, D. J. Brackett, E. A. Lucas, and B. J. Smith. 2006. Dried plum prevents bone loss in a male osteoporosis model via IGF-I and the RANK pathway. Bone 39(6):1331–1342.
Hooshmand, S., S. C. Chai, R. L. Saadat, M. E. Payton, K. Brummel-Smith, and B. H. Arjmandi. 2011. Comparative effects of dried plum and dried apple on bone in postmenopausal women. British Journal of Nutrition 106(6):923–930.
It’s no wonder that women are confused about calcium, given the two messages we are hearing. First we hear that calcium is the single nutrient you need to build bones, and as a result, many women mistakenly load up on simple supplements of high-dose calcium. The second message warns that calcium is dangerous, and as a result, women stop taking it completely – another mistake!
From our early research it was clear that taking calcium alone did not prevent fractures. I’m happy to see the growing awareness that a broader nutritional base is needed to support bone health. You can read more about calcium, its role and the other key nutrients needed for bone health here.
Question 1: Dr. Brown answers Gina’s question about how much vitamin D she should be taking
Did you ever wonder why you end up suffering from the flu nearly every winter? You may not be getting enough vitamin D.
The darker winter months are when our sun-dependent vitamin D levels are at their lowest. Among its many other actions, vitamin D stimulates and supports immune function. And in temperate latitudes, researchers find that pandemic influenzas generally show clear seasonality. In other words: More cold dark days, more flu.
Here’s some of the growing research connecting vitamin D and influenza:
- Women given 800 IU of vitamin D daily were 3 times less likely to report cold and flu symptoms than those not given vitamin D. This study was a randomized controlled trial looking at bone loss in postmenopausal African American women.
- A study with intake of 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily for one year efficiently protected women against typical winter colds and influenza.
- A trial comparing vitamin D supplements with placebos in schoolchildren found that only 1,200 IU per day of vitamin D during winter and early spring reduced the incidence of seasonal influenza by a factor of two.
Here’s how I suggest you protect yourself from winter flu related to low vitamin D:
- Maintain a 50 to 60 ng/ml vitamin D level all year round to get the fullest possible benefits from vitamin D.
- Get your vitamin D tested now to prepare for the winter. To get your level to the optimal 50 to 60 ng/ml some may require the intake of 4,000 to 5,000 IU daily of vitamin D or even more. For others lesser doses are sufficient. Some people absorb vitamin D better than others, some seem to have a higher need and others have higher reserves from the summer.
- Determine how much extra D you need. As a rule of thumb, for every 1,000 IU increase in vitamin D your vitamin D blood level will increase by 10 ng/ml. So if you measure your level in December and it is 30 ng/ml, you would add 2,000 IU more vitamin D to your daily supplement program to get to a 50 ng/ml.
Here’s to a happy, healthy winter season!
Cauley JA, Chlebowski RT, Wactawski-Wende J, et al. Calcium plus vitamin D supplementation and health outcomes 5 years after active intervention ended: the Women’s Health Initiative. J Women’s Health (Larchmt). 2013;22:915-929.
We created the Better Bones blog as our forum to express opinions and educate the public about natural means of supporting and improving bone health and overall wellness. As part of this forum, we sometimes discuss medical issues and medications, and their effects on bone health in general. However, we cannot advise readers about specific medical issues in this forum. If you wish to obtain advice from Susan E. Brown, PhD, about your specific bone health and nutritional concerns, please visit ourConsultations page. Other specific medical questions should be referred to your healthcare provider.
Dried plums — or prunes — are among the highest antioxidant foods shown to help improve bone strength. However, in early studies, the level of prune intake originally found to bone-enhancing was fairly high at 100 grams, or 9-10 prunes a day.
While researchers were happy with this first prune-positive finding, they did hear more than a few complaints about the number of prunes the women had to consume. So they decided to investigate if half that prune intake would still provide potent benefits.
How many prunes to reverse bone loss?
At the recent International Symposium on Nutrition and Osteoporosis I had the opportunity to meet two researchers studying the prune-bone link, including Dr. Shirin Hooshmand from San Diego State University. Even though their clinical trial has been going only for six months, preliminary results are very positive. Watch below as Dr. Hooshmand discusses more details about the study.
How Dr. Brown gets her 6 prunes a day
I stew up 42 prunes for a week’s supply and eat 2-3 a meal. I love them as a “sweet” ending to my meal or mixed into my hot cereal. I also eat them warmed up a bit and even drink the juice.
To stew prunes:
- Put 42 dried prunes in pan and cover with water 1” above prunes, add a cut up lemon
- Bring water to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer
- Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until soft
- Cool prunes and put in refrigerator
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