If you're dealing with a broken bone, you're far from alone. According to Ohio State University, 6 million people in the U.S. break a bone every year. While there's no magic bullet, bone fracture healing foods include those rich in vitamins D, C and K and minerals calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
Food to Heal Broken Bones
Anyone can break a bone. Blunt impact during a sports match, a car accident or a particularly bad fall can cause even the healthiest of bones to exceed its breaking point. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that, in addition to those traumatic events, overuse, or repetitive movements that fatigue the muscles, can put additional stress on bones that causes them to fracture.
Another common cause of broken bones is osteoporosis, a condition in which the density and quality of bone deteriorates. The bones become porous, brittle, fragile and prone to breaking.
Several factors contribute to the development of osteoporosis, including age and sex — women over age 50 have a 50 percent risk of breaking a bone because of osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Nutrition is also a major factor, and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia also contribute to weakened bones and the development of osteoporosis.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Adequate amounts of calcium are necessary for bone remodeling, the continuous process the bones go through to break down old bone and redeposit calcium to build new bone — a process that's crucial to healing after a bone injury.
But calcium doesn't work alone. Vitamin D is required for proper absorption of calcium in the gut; without enough vitamin D, your blood levels of calcium drop, and normal bone remodeling can't occur.
Maintaining adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D is crucial throughout your lifetime to prevent osteoporosis and future fractures. After breaking a bone, low levels of vitamin D and calcium are especially problematic because their effect on how well and how quickly the bone heals, according to a research review published in the Journal of Osteoporosis in December 2017.
Make sure to meet the minimum daily intake recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Medicine, which is 1,000 milligrams for all adults ages 19 to 50 years old. From ages 51 to 70, men still need 1,000 milligrams, but women's needs increase to 1,200 milligrams daily. After age 71, both men and women need 1,200 milligrams each day.
The best sources of calcium foods to heal broken bones are dairy foods, including milk, cheese and yogurt. If you don't eat dairy, meeting your calcium needs can be a little more difficult. Canned salmon with bones, tofu made with calcium sulfate and fortified juices and cereals are non-dairy sources of calcium, but may not be enough to meet your calcium needs alone. Your doctor can tell you whether supplemental calcium is necessary for you.
Vitamin D needs are also challenging to meet through diet alone, since few foods contain the nutrient, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Adults between the ages of 19 and 70 need 600 international units daily. Over the age of 70, men and women need 800 international units daily. Dietary sources include swordfish, salmon and tuna, as well as fortified milk, juice and cereal.
Cod liver oil is an especially rich source. You can also meet your vitamin D needs through direct exposure to the sun's UVB rays; however, due to the dangers of skin cancer, this isn't recommended. Vitamin D deficiency is common, so speak with your doctor about whether you need a supplement.
Foods With Vitamin C
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a critical nutrient for the production of collagen, the most abundant type of protein in the human body that forms 90 percent of the matrix of your bones, according to the University of Washington. Vitamin C deficiency is rare in developed countries, reports NIH, but vitamin C inadequacy is a risk for certain populations, including:
- Smokers and secondhand smokers
- People with malabsorption disorders or chronic diseases
- People with limited diets
The recommended daily intake of vitamin C is 90 milligrams for men, 75 milligrams for women, 85 milligrams for pregnant women and 120 milligrams for breastfeeding women. Eating a varied diet typically provides enough vitamin C for most people, according to the NIH. If you believe you are not getting enough of the nutrient, focus on increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, including bell peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, strawberries and Brussels sprouts.
Other Nutrients for Bone Health
Phosphorus and magnesium are two minerals found in the body's bone crystal, and both improve bone strength and growth. Most people can get enough of these nutrients through a well-balanced diet, reports the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, except for older adults who have a higher risk of magnesium deficiency.
The recommended daily intake of phosphorus is 420 milligrams for males, 320 for females, 350 milligrams for pregnant women ages 19 to 30, 360 milligrams for pregnant women ages 31 to 50, 310 milligrams for breastfeeding women ages 19 to 30, and 320 milligrams for breastfeeding women ages 31 to 50.
The best dietary sources of this mineral are salmon, halibut, turkey, yogurt, milk, chicken, beef, lentils and almonds, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at the University of Oregon. All adults need 700 milligrams of magnesium a day, which can be found in nuts, spinach, beans and fortified breakfast cereals.
Last, vitamin K is another vitamin for bone healing that is involved in bone formation and mineralization. Most people get adequate amounts of vitamin K in their diets, reports NIH, but people with malabsorption disorders may need increased amounts of the nutrient. Leafy green vegetables, such as collard greens, turnip greens, spinach and kale are the richest sources of vitamin K.
- Ohio State University: "Arm Injury Statistics"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Fractures (Broken Bones)"
- National Osteoporosis Foundation: "What Women Need to Know"
- NIH: "Calcium"
- NIH: "Vitamin D"
- Journal of Osteoporosis: "Nutritional Aspects of Bone Health and Fracture Healing"
- National Academies of Medicine: "Summary Tables, Dietary Reference Intakes"
- University of Washington: "Collagen and Bone Matrix"
- NIH: "Vitamin C"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Calcium, Nutrition, and Bone Health"
- University of Oregon: "Phosphorus"
- NIH: "Vitamin K"