Maintaining bone and joint health is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. Our bones and joints can become more fragile as we get older, so it's important to look after them. Being fit and active, and spending plenty of time outdoors, is a good place to start, as is stopping smoking if you're a smoker. Equally important is making sure you eat a balanced, healthy and varied diet, paying attention to key nutrients that help support bones and joints throughout our lives.
Which vitamins & minerals help to keep our bones healthy?
Calcium is a chalky mineral that helps keep bones strong and healthy. As well as its role in maintaining healthy bones, vitamin D allows the absorption of calcium in the gut. It also helps us absorb phosphorus, another mineral that keeps bones healthy.
How can I help keep my joints healthy?
Joints are made up of several components including bones, cartilage, muscle and connective tissues (tendons and ligaments). So, looking after these will contribute to keeping joints healthy. The best way to maintain healthy joints is to keep fit and healthy. You can do this by maintaining a healthy weight, taking regular exercise and eating a varied and balanced diet.
Vitamin C has a role in the creation of collagen, which helps support the normal function of cartilage and bones. Manganese has a role in the formation of healthy connective tissue. Vitamin D helps maintain normal muscle function and calcium is needed for the maintenance of healthy bones.
How do I get enough calcium?
Most of us get all the calcium we need through a balanced and varied diet. Sources include:
- Dairy products
- Green leafy vegetables
- Fish such as sardines or pilchards
If you're concerned you're not getting enough calcium from your diet and are considering taking a supplement, you should talk to your doctor first, especially if you have a medical condition. Even if we're getting enough calcium, a vitamin D deficiency can mean we don't absorb enough to keep bones healthy.
How do I get enough vitamin D?
From early spring to early autumn, most of us get enough vitamin D from sunlight on our skin. However, we also need to eat foods that contain vitamin D. Not many foods contain it, which is why it's so important to get it from sunlight and to supplement during the autumn and winter months when there's less sunlight. Food sources include:
- Red meat
- Liver (not suitable for pregnant women)
- Egg yolks
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Oily fish
However, vitamin D can only be found in small amounts in food. It's thought that one in five of us in the UK have low vitamin D levels during periods of reduced sunlight (September to March). So, current government advice is that all adults should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D during these months. For advice on vitamin D supplements, speak to your pharmacist.
How do I get enough Vitamin C?
Most people get enough vitamin C from eating a varied, balanced diet. Good sources include:
- Oranges and orange juice
- Green and red peppers
- Leafy greens
Vitamin C is also available as a supplement, in the form of capsules, as well as chewable or soluble tablets. Vitamin C supplements are intended to top up your diet and shouldn’t replace a healthy and varied diet.
Are there other ways to help protect bones and joints?
- Lose weight if you’re overweight. Excess weight means the hips, knees and ankles have to work harder and may wear out more quickly, leading to osteoarthritis. Your Doctor or pharmacist will be able to advise you if you're unsure where to start
- Stay active. Regular exercise helps keep joints supple and bones strong, and keeps weight down
- Wear appropriate footwear. When running, always use running shoes, as they absorb shock and protect weight-bearing joints. If walking long distances, wear walking boots, which help support the ankles
What can go wrong with bones?
As we get older our bones get less dense, but some people lose more bone density than is normal. This can lead to osteoporosis, which carries a greater risk of fractures.
People who are prone to osteoporosis include:
- Post-menopausal women
- Long-term users of steroids
- Those who drink and smoke heavily
A lack of vitamin D can also lead to soft, weak and deformed bones in children (rickets) and soft bones and bone pain in adults (osteomalacia). Rickets and osteomalacia are becoming more common. This is because more people have a vitamin D deficiency, either through poor diet, insufficient sunlight, or both. Rickets and osteomalacia are more common in those with dark skin, which absorbs vitamin D from sunlight less well than lighter skins. If you're worried about your bone health, visit your Doctor.
What can go wrong with joints?
Joint pain can be caused by the wear-and-tear condition called osteoarthritis. As well as pain, osteoarthritis can cause swelling and stiffness. If you're experiencing persistent joint pain or you're worried about your joints, visit your Doctor.
- Eat a varied and balanced diet, and consider a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during September to March
- Stay active and maintain a healthy weight
- Visit your Doctor if experiencing bone or joint pain