Keep your Bones Young and Strong

The clear hallmarks of ageing are creaky and aching joints and reducing bone mass. For some people, decreasing bone mass leads to osteoporosis, which is usually discovered when a fracture occurs. Four-fifths of fractures occur after the age of 50 and the risk becomes quite significant from 70 onwards.

Most people think of bones as something rather ‘dead’ – simply the scaffolding on which to hang the rest of the body. Bones are made from a matrix of collagen, produced by vitamin C, into which bone-building minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium are deposited. Although they seem the strongest and most enduring part of us, our bones are in a constant flux, endlessly being destroyed and re-created. Cells called osteoclasts are the bone destroyers, whereas the osteoblasts create new bone – but age slows down this sequence of destruction and renewal.

Strategies for improving bone-mass density either focus on stimulating growth, helping to push minerals into the bone, or on preventing its breakdown. Weight-bearing exercise – such as walking – combined with eating sufficient protein, for example, stimulates bone growth. Getting enough vitamin D helps calcium to be absorbed into the bone, while the hormone oestrogen and drugs called bisphosphonates inhibit bone breakdown. B vitamins assist your body’s methylation, and keep your homocysteine level ideal, which also helps to inhibit bone breakdown. The usual drugs offered are bisphosphonates but they are remarkably ineffective.

The amount of vitamin D you have in your blood may also play a major role. Not only does research show that 75 per cent of people on bisphosphonates don’t respond at all if they have the kind of low levels very common in the UK (below 50 nmol/l) but also getting double that amount would mean that you would be seven times more likely to have a favourable response to the drug.1 It only costs your doctor a small amount – a fraction of the cost of a drug prescription– to have your vitamin D levels tested, but if your doctor doesn’t want to test you, you can do it yourself at

Vitamin D is vitally important for bone health

Osteoporosis becomes more common as you move north, suggesting a link between sunlight (which produces vitamin D in the body) and this condition. The vital role of vitamin D is well known. It helps deposit calcium and other minerals into the bones’ collagen structure. Numerous studies have shown that the combination of vitamin D – at a daily intake of around 20–30mcg a day, along with 1,000mg-plus of calcium – improves bone mass density and reduces the risk of fractures.

It is certainly possible make all the vitamin D you need from sun, depending on how near the equator you are, the season and your skin colour. In the UK, 20 to 30 minutes a day in the summer, with as much of your skin exposed as you are comfortable with, will keep you healthy. But between October and March...

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