Bones for life – Who needs supplements?

Bones for life – Who needs supplements?



Fetal Health

Bones form in utero, between 8 weeks gestation and the end of trimester 2. Throughout the entire pregnancy, bones continue increasing in size and maturing until birth. Nutrient demands for fetal bone development are consistently high during trimester 2 and 3 as the baby’s skeleton grows and fully forms.


As baby learns to use their limbs, head and neck, muscles begin to work and bone density increases, causing an increased nutrient demand. This demand persists during breastfeeding and early growth, for mother and child alike. Many nutrients are transferred from mother to baby through breast milk, so maintaining healthy levels during this time is of utmost importance.


A great deal of bone development and growth occurs during childhood and bones need a constant supply of nutrients to cope with these demands. If your family’s diet is low in milk products or fish with edible bones, supplementation is advised for parents and children, to help support healthy bone growth and development.


Bones experience a quick growth spurt at puberty and throughout the teenage years, expanding in size to accommodate growing bodies. Nutrient demand is high, especially in adolescents with inadequate diets.

Adults – 20 to 50 years

Throughout adulthood, continuous bone remodelling occurs. Bone building responds directly to physical activity, like manual labour and frequent or load-bearing exercise.

Pregnant women

Getting enough calcium throughout pregnancy is important for maternal support and fetal bone development. Calcium supplementation during pregnancy may prevent bone health issues from occurring later in life for mothers and their babies (1). Although recommendations by most health authorities are the same as those for non-pregnant adults, low calcium intake before, during and after pregnancy can have health consequences for Mum’s risk of osteoporosis in later years, and also for baby’s skeletal formation and development(2). In some regions, calcium intake is much lower due to minimal dairy in the cultural diet. People in these areas have a stronger need to supplement because calcium is not able to be replenished as easily through diet(2).

Breastfeeding women

Throughout breastfeeding and lactation there is a high calcium demand, as much of Mum’s calcium is transferred to baby through breast milk. These demands on maternal calcium may lead to temporary osteoporosis if not enough is available in the bloodstream, particularly where dietary intake is low(2). Likewise, other nutrients are important for both maternal and newborn health – in particular, vitamins D and K. Vitamin D is responsible for helping calcium absorption, where vitamin K is responsible for assisting with production of the proteins that make bones(3). Vitamin K1 supplementation at this time has been shown to improve bone health outcomes and is particularly important because of its ability to transfer from mother to child via breast milk(4).

Calcium needs in later life: 50 +

Bones begin to degenerate after 50, along with other organ systems, becoming less efficient at renewal. Studies have indicated that levels of calcium and vitamin D in our bloodstream decrease dramatically between 50 and 70 years (5). To prevent bone health complications, and reduce the risk of fractures due to falling, calcium & vitamin D supplementation may assist (6).

                                                  70 +

Seniors endure one of the most risk-prone times in life, where bones can weaken and fracture more easily than in younger people. Aging often brings reduced physical activity, decreased muscle coordination and lowered bone nutrient levels in blood serum, increasing the risk of bone damage. With reduced activity, bone begins to weaken, and nutrient supplementation is important to maintain its strength and integrity. Combined vitamin D and calcium supplementation for bone health in elderly people may help preserve skeletal integrity and prevent fractures if falls occur(1). Vitamin D may even reduce the risk of falling (7) by improving bone and muscle function(8).


  1. Flynn A. The role of dietary calcium in bone health. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2003;62(04):851-8.
  2. Heringhausen J, Montgomery KS. Continuing Education Module—Maternal Calcium Intake and Metabolism During Pregnancy and Lactation. The Journal of perinatal education. 2005;14(1):52.
  3. Goldberg G. Nutrition and bone. Women’s Health Medicine. 2006;3(4):157-9.
  4. Greer FR, Marshall SP, Foley AL, Suttie JW. Improving the vitamin K status of breastfeeding infants with maternal vitamin K supplements. Pediatrics. 1997;99(1):88-92. Epub 1997/01/01.
  5. Nordin BEC, Need AG, Morris HA, O’Loughlin PD, Horowitz M. Effect of age on calcium absorption in postmenopausal women. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2004;80(4):998-1002.
  6. hapuy MC, Arlot ME, Duboeuf F, Brun J, Crouzet B, Arnaud S, et al. Vitamin D3 and calcium to prevent hip fractures in the elderly women. The New England journal of medicine. 1992;327(23):1637-42.
  7. Cameron ID, Gillespie LD, Robertson MC, Murray GR, Hill KD, Cumming RG, et al. Interventions for preventing falls in older people in care facilities and hospitals. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2012;12:CD005465.
  8. Agergaard J, Trøstrup J, Uth J, Iversen JV, Boesen A, Andersen JL, et al. Does vitamin-D intake during resistance training improve the skeletal muscle hypertrophic and strength response in young and elderly men? – a randomized controlled trial. Nutrition & metabolism. 2015;12(1):1-14.