The period of adolescence is a special stage for bone development. An adolescent is someone between the ages of 10 – 19 years. This stage of life is an important time for laying the foundation of proper bone health for your child. During this period, the skeleton is very active in absorbing calcium and other nutrients that will keep bones strong and healthy throughout life. So, consuming foods rich in bone nutrients improves bone strength and mineral content in adolescents. This keeps their bone strong and reduces the risk of rickets and osteoporosis as they grow older. These vital bone nutrients include Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin K, Magnesium, Zinc and a list of others.
Factors Causing Poor Bone Development in Adolescents
Studies suggest that our bones absorb the maximum amount of minerals and density by the age of 18. In science, this process is called “Peak bone mass”. Unfortunately, many factors affect how adolescent bone absorbs nutrients before the age of 18. These factors include:
A person’s genetic background can affect their growth rate and bone development. For example, adolescents with active growth hormones tend to have high number of growth cells and bone mass than those who do not.
Adolescent females tend to absorb more bone minerals from their food than males. This is why they tend to grow bigger than their male counterpart by the age of 18.
Malnutrition and eating an unbalanced diet cause poor bone development in adolescents. Essential nutrients like Calcium, Vitamin K and Vitamin D must be added to our food for optimal bone growth.
4. Lifestyle Choices
Most young adults fail to exercise during their youth. Regular exercise keeps bone solid and able to carry weight as you grow older. Some studies also suggest that smoking can cause poor calcium absorption, leading to poor bone health.
Some drugs can affect bone development during adolescence. For example, young adults who take birth control pills, opioids and some anti-depressant drugs will likely experience weak bone formation. This may also lead to a higher risk of osteoporosis in future.
5 Nutrients for Stronger Bone in Adolescents
Calcium promotes the normal growth and development of our skeleton. Eating foods rich in this nutrient helps to form new bones in children. It also gives their bones good strength and density before they reach the age of 18. Taking enough calcium also prevents bone loss associated with ageing. You should be able to get all the calcium you need by eating a balanced diet. Milk and milk products (dairy) have the highest content of calcium. Other foods with calcium include salmon, fish bones, tofu, almonds, and leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and turnip greens.
It is recommended that young adults between 10 – 19years take 700mg of calcium a day. Adolescents who experience low calcium intake can take a calcium supplement to keep their bones in shape. Taking too much of a calcium supplement may have side effects. Always make sure you stick to a prescribed dose.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is popularly called the “sunlight vitamin.” This Vitamin helps the body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet. These minerals work together to keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. For this reason, lack of Vitamin D can cause the bones of adolescents to become soft and weak.
Sunlight is the highest source of Vitamin D. Our body produces this Vitamin when ultra-violet rays hit our skin. Unfortunately, Surveys show that poor vitamin D levels are common in countries with cold weather. For more Vitamin D, make sure you expose your skin to early sunlight. You can also get small amounts of vitamin D from oily fish (salmon, tuna), red meat and eggs.
The recommended dose of vitamin D for young adults is 1000-1500 IU per day. Adolescents facing poor sunlight and bad weather can take a vitamin D supplement to keep their bones healthy.
3. Vitamin K
Most people do not known that Vitamin is essential for bone health. The K Vitamin is made up of two vitamins, namely Vitamin K1 and K2. Vitamin K (particularly Vitamin K2) are essential for bone formation in young adolescents. Studies suggest that Vitamin K promotes bone metabolism in the early stages of life. For this reason, Vitamin K intake have been linked with high bone strength and a low risk of hip fracture in adolescents. Green leafy vegetables like broccoli, lettuce and spinach are rich sources of vitamin K.
It is recommended that adolescent boys take not more than 120 micrograms per day, while women should take a maximum of 90 micrograms daily.
Magnesium regulates calcium absorption in the body. So, adolescents who have enough of this nutrient tend to have bones with high mineral content. Some studies also suggest that good magnesium intake could prevent bone loss and osteoporosis later in life. Foods rich in magnesium are almonds, cashews and peanuts. You can also find small amounts of magnesium in other foods like milk, potato, brown rice, and lentils.
Adolescents looking to support their bone health are advised to take 250 mg of a magnesium supplement per day.
Zinc has a small but significant effect on bone growth in adolescents. Zinc is a mineral found in our bones. Studies suggest that having a good Zinc level at an early age helps promote bone regeneration. The reason is that Zinc helps the body to form bone cells. So, eating foods rich in Zinc can assist adolescents with solid bones with high mineral value.
Zinc is found in many foods like red meat, lamb, shellfish, seeds, nuts, dairy products, poultry, and beans. Adolescent boys and girls can take up to 40mg of a zinc supplement daily without any side effects.