Broken bones are a bummer, and they can take a while to recover from. Taking supplements for bone healing may help as long as you know what to look for. Vitamin D, vitamin C and calcium appear to be the most effective.
Some bone fractures are microscopic, while others are big and debilitating. Stress fractures tend to be smaller and occur when a bone is overused, notes the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. For example, marathoners can get stress fractures in their shins or feet from the repeated impact of running.
Other fractures are more severe. Those resulting from a sudden impact can cause the bone to break completely. Spiral and compression fractures, which result from sudden trauma, cause the bone to break in different directions.
Osteoporosis and Weak Bones
Bones are strong and can withstand hundreds or even thousands of pounds of force, but bone weakness or large impact forces may cause them to break. If the bone is already weak, it's more likely to suffer an injury. Osteoporosis is the most common cause of bone weakness.
In osteoporosis, bones degenerate faster than they can regenerate. Like other tissues in your body, your bones are constantly remodeling themselves. From the time you're born, they are constantly building up and breaking themselves down. Bone formation is when new bone is created, and bone resorption is when the bone is broken down.
Osteoporosis occurs in about one in three women and one in five men. The most common injury sites for fractures are the hip, spine and wrist. Prevention of osteoporosis starts at an early age. As a child and adolescent, you can build stronger bones by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Read more: The Effect of Swimming on Bone Strength
Tips for Faster Fracture Healing
As an adult, you can't build bigger bones, but you can maintain the bone mass you already have. Eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular exercise will help your body maintain its bone structure. You should also avoid excess drinking, smoking and very-low-calorie diets. If you need extra help, consider taking vitamins for bone healing.
If you break a bone, it can take weeks or months to heal. During the recovery period, you should continue to lead a healthy lifestyle that promotes bone formation. Proper nutrition can give your body the resources it needs to lay down new bone, but supplements for bone healing are also helpful.
When a bone breaks, the site of the fracture clots to stop bleeding. Then, phagocytes (cells derived from the bone marrow) clean out the area to prevent infection. After that, a callus is formed around the bone, which acts as a temporary fix to the fracture until it can harden and calcify into new tissue. This process takes six to 12 weeks, but a full remodeling of the bone can take years.
Calcium for Strong Bones
One of the most important nutrients involved in this process is calcium, a mineral that makes up a large portion of the bone. In fact, it's the most prevalent mineral in the human body, according to the National Institutes of Health. Your muscles, nerves and cells all use calcium to function normally, so it's needed for more than just bone health.
For adult males and females age 19 to 50, the recommended dietary allowance is 1,000 milligrams per day. That means most adults should aim for at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day from their diet. Foods that contain calcium include:
- Milk, yogurt and cheese
- Canned sardines
- Soy milk
- Fortified orange juice
- Fortified cereals
- Kale, turnip greens and Chinese cabbage
To get enough calcium for the day, you'd need to eat about 16 ounces of yogurt or drink 24 ounces of milk. If you find it difficult to meet these recommendations, you can turn to a calcium supplement.
An April 2018 review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association assessed the effectiveness of calcium supplements in reducing the risk of fractures. Researchers analyzed several studies where people took calcium supplements only or with a vitamin D supplement.
Scientists have seen that there wasn't any noticeable benefit to taking calcium supplements alone. In fact, there were possible side effects of consuming too much calcium, such as kidney stones.
However, when combined with vitamin D, calcium may help people with osteoporosis. If you don't have this disease, though, you won't benefit much from a calcium supplement or vitamin D.
Supplementing With Vitamin D
Vitamin D is involved in the bone-making process. Your body produces vitamin D if you're exposed to sunlight for roughly 15 minutes every day. There are also food sources rich in vitamin D, such as fatty fish, eggs and fortified products like cereal and yogurt. Some specially-grown mushrooms also contain vitamin D.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin D for adults is 600 IU, which stands for international units. That comes out to about 15 micrograms. That's roughly equivalent to 3 ounces of salmon.
Depending on where you live and how often you get outside, you may or may not need a vitamin D supplement. People who live in colder, darker climates like New England may not get enough sunlight to produce sufficient vitamin D.
If you're deficient in vitamin D, taking a supplement can help. While it might not be as potent for children, taking a vitamin D supplement can help reduce fractures in the elderly. It's even better at preventing a break when taken in combination with a calcium supplement.
Vitamin D supplementation is recommended if you're healing from a bone break. If you have a fracture that's not healing particularly well, this nutrient may encourage new bone growth.
Read more: Exercise to Increase Hip Bone Density
Vitamin C for Bone Healing
An April 2018 study published in Current Drug Targets reviewed research on vitamin C in humans and animals. The researchers found that both animals and humans had greater bone mineral density when they supplemented with this nutrient. They found that correcting a vitamin C deficiency produced the best results.
Increasing bone mineral density not only helps the bone grow stronger, it means you can heal faster. At the end of the paper, however, the researchers conclude that there should be more studies on the effect of vitamin C on bone health, so the jury is still out.
The RDA of vitamin C for adult men is 90 milligrams per day. For women, it's 75 milligrams per day. If you smoke, you should have 35 milligrams more per day than the RDA.
You can get vitamin C from citrus fruits and vegetables like peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. If you don't get enough fruits and vegetables in your diet, you can take vitamin C supplements for bone healing.
Is This an Emergency?
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin C"
- Current Drug Targets: "Vitamin C and Bone Health: Evidence from Cell, Animal and Human Studies"
- NYU Langone Health: "Nonsurgical Treatment for Nonhealing Fractures"
- Journal of Osteoporosis: "Nutritional Aspects of Bone Health and Fracture Healing"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calcium, Vitamin D and Fractures (oh my!)"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin D"
- Royal Osteoporosis Society: "Vitamin D"
- National Institutes of Health: "Calcium"
- Arizona State University: "How Do Bones Heal?"
- International Osteoporosis Foundation: "Preventing Osteoporosis"
- International Osteoporosis Foundation: "What Is Osteoporosis?"
- Stanford Health Care: "Types of Fractures"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Stress Fractures of the Foot and Ankle"
- Journal of the American Medical Association: "Vitamin D, Calcium, or Combined Supplementation for the Primary Prevention of Fractures in Community-Dwelling Adults"