Osteoporosis is characterized by bones that become progressively weak and brittle. The word ''osteoporosis'' means "porous bone." While most Americans can avoid osteoporosis by exercising and consuming a balanced diet, supplementation can also play a role in the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis. Among the best supplements for controlling osteoporosis are calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K.
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The National Institutes of Health reports that around 34 million Americans have osteoporosis, with another 18 million at risk for the disease. One-in-two women and one-in-four men, over the age of 50, will experience an osteoporosis-related bone fracture. Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease because it can progress with few or no symptoms. As you grow older your body replaces lost bone mass more slowly, which can lead to a net loss in total bone mass. Other causes for osteoporosis can include alcoholism, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney failure, anorexia and vitamin and mineral deficiencies -- specifically calcium, vitamins D, A and K and magnesium.
Calcium and Vitamin D
The National Institutes of Health notes that calcium and vitamin D, when supplemented together, have been proven to reduce osteoporosis related falls and fractures in older adults. When calcium intake is low the body relies on the stored calcium in bone mass, which leads to bone degradation. Vitamin D is important because it is necessary for the absorption of calcium. The National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center notes that calcium is better absorbed when taken in small doses of 500 milligrams or less, spread throughout the day. Vitamin D should be consumed in doses of no more than 4000 IU per day, according to The Institute of Medicine.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The University Of Maryland Medical Center notes that omega-3 fatty acids may be able to improve osteoporosis by increasing the absorption of calcium and increasing bone strength. A 2012 paper published in the "British Journal of Nutrition" noted that four studies found that omega-3 fatty acids had a positive effect on bone mineral density. The study also noted that the effects of omega-3 fatty acids can be enhanced, when taken with calcium. UMMC notes that 4 grams of fish oil -- a source of omega-3s -- per day may help increase bone mass.
Although vitamin K is a nutrient most well known for its role in blood clotting, a 2007 study published in "Nutrition in Clinical Practice" notes that it may have a potential role in bone metabolism and osteoporosis prevention. Another study in the the "American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy" has similar findings, also noting the importance of vitamin K in bone health and the low occurrence of side effects resulting from supplementation. Vitamin K, which can help bind calcium to bone, can be supplemented at amounts between 150 to 500 micrograms, according to UMMC. Dietary sources of vitamin K include dark leafy greens and dairy.
Because supplying calcium to bones is key in stopping osteoporosis, calcium is the most important nutrient for individuals with osteoporosis. Vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K all work to improve the body's utilization of calcium. Of these three, vitamin D may be the most effective in this role, which is why it is commonly coupled with calcium. One of the best ways to supplement for osteoporosis is likely through adequate calcium with vitamin D intake.