Most major bone growth happens in childhood. By your mid-twenties, your bones are set and settled. Your bones grow, you reach your final height, and then your body works to maintain the strength and health of your bones. Unless you break a bone, your body is done with all the heavy-duty bone growth.
Vitamins and nutrients to support bone health and bone density are important for all people of all ages. They’re extremely important for people between the ages of 10 and 20 when bone growth is at its peak.
Parents need to know the role vitamins and minerals play in helping children build healthy bones.
What If You Don’t Get Enough Vitamins for Bone Growth?
You’ll always need vitamins and minerals for bone health, but they’re crucial when bones are in the development and fortification stage. This is the stage where bones will have the greatest need for building blocks. If bones don’t get what they need, the consequences can linger for a lifetime.
Rickets is a disease children can develop if they don’t get enough vitamin D. Rickets is rare in the developed world, but parents should still be mindful of their children’s vitamin D intake.
Although it remains uncommon, pediatricians have noticed that rates of rickets are increasing in children between the ages of six months to 24 months, when the need for bone-building nutrients is very high.
Rickets can cause bones to soften, often leading to skeletal deformity and other musculoskeletal health concerns. If rickets isn’t caught and treated early, a child may fail to grow. Skeletal and spinal deformities may require corrective surgery to improve a child’s quality of life.
The body constantly borrows and replaces minerals from bones. If the body isn’t getting enough of the minerals it needs to replace the minerals it borrows, it can lead to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones that makes them hollow and brittle. Minor injuries can have serious consequences when bones are so vulnerable.
Most people associate osteoporosis with menopausal women, the group most commonly affected by the condition. Juvenile osteoporosis is less common, but it can still occur.
Prevention of osteoporosis begins early in life. Bone mass is set in stone by the time a person reaches the age of twenty. It’s important to build strong bone mass in early childhood to reduce the risk of osteoporosis in adulthood.
What Vitamins and Minerals Do Kids Need for Bone Health?
A lot of parents will associate calcium supplements with strong bones thanks to the “Got Milk?” ads they grew up with. Calcium is indeed a very important mineral for building healthy bones, but it cannot work on its own.
The body needs many other minerals and vitamins to promote strong bones, and it may not even be able to absorb adequate amounts of calcium without them.
Calcium keeps the body strong. Calcium and phosphorus team up to make tooth enamel, the strongest substance the human body can create. Calcium gives bones their structure and protects the soft living tissue inside of bones. Nearly 99 percent of bone structure comes from bonded calcium and phosphate.
- Children one to three years old - 700 mg of calcium daily
- Children four to eight years old - 1,000 mg of calcium daily
- Children and teenagers nine to 18 years old - 1,300 mg of calcium daily
Magnesium is necessary for bone and muscle health. It works to fortify the strength of bones and their density. People who ingest substantial amounts of magnesium may be supported later in life when bone health conditions are more common.
- From birth to age three - 40 to 80 mg magnesium daily
- Kids four to six years old - 120 mg magnesium daily
- Kids seven to 10 years old - 170 mg magnesium daily
Bones are made of calcium phosphate, a combination of calcium and phosphorus. Phosphorus is just as important as calcium for building bones. The two need to bind together.
- Birth to six months old - 100 mg phosphorus daily
- Seven months to one year old - 275 mg phosphorus daily
- One to three years old - 460 mg phosphorus daily
- Four to eight years old - 500 mg phosphorus daily
- Nine to 13 years old - 1,250 mg phosphorus daily
Collagen is the protein the body needs to begin the process of bone formation or mineralization. Eating collagen-rich foods won’t necessarily help.
The body needs to synthesize its own collagen, and it can’t do so without vitamin C. Vitamin C plays a crucial role in helping the body produce all the necessary tissues.
- Birth to six months old - 40 mg Vitamin C daily
- Seven to 12 months old - 50 mg Vitamin C daily
- One to three years old - 15 mg Vitamin C daily
- Three to eight years old - 25 mg Vitamin C daily
- Nine to 13 years old - 45 mg of Vitamin C daily
The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. If you ingest calcium without vitamin D, it’s much more difficult for the body to use.
Many dairy products and some juices, like orange juice, are fortified with vitamin D and other bone-healthy minerals to avoid a vitamin D deficiency. The body can produce its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but you shouldn’t rely on sunlight.
Unprotected sun exposure is dangerous, and it’s not worth the risk when vitamin D can be obtained through diet or supplements.
- Infants less than one year - 400 IU Vitamin D Daily
- People one year and older - 600 to 1000 IU Vitamin D Daily
Vitamin K is often overlooked and underestimated, but it’s crucial for human health. Vitamin K supports the body with blood clotting and bone mineral density. It can be found in foods like leafy greens and soybean oil.
The body is very efficient with vitamin K, which means you don’t need much of it. Vitamin K is measured in micrograms instead of milligrams because the recommended daily value is so modest.
- Birth to six months old - 2.0 mcg vitamin K daily
- Seven to 12 months old - 2.5 mcg vitamin K daily
- One to three years old - 30 mcg vitamin K daily
- Four to eight years old - 55 mcg vitamin K daily
- Nine to 13 years old - 60 mcg vitamin K daily
Helping Your Child Build Strong Bones
Health starts with what’s on your plate. Changing the foods you serve your family can help your youngsters get all the vitamins, minerals, and important nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. You may also want to supplement with a multivitamin when food isn’t enough.
Serve More Mineral Rich Foods
Sardines and leafy green vegetables are great sources of calcium. Vegan families and households with allergies or intolerances can serve up soy, almonds, beans, lentils, and seeds.
Most foods containing calcium already contain phosphorus, as the two commonly occur together. Phosphorus in animal-based foods is much easier for the body to utilize than in plant-based foods. You may consider using supplements if your family doesn’t eat animal-based foods.
Add More Vitamins and Minerals to Your Plate
The most abundant sources of vitamin C are citrus, tomatoes, and potatoes. If your children turn away fruit, don’t fret. Parents usually easily incorporate vitamin C into their children’s healthy diets, even if their children are picky eaters, with a vitamin.
You may have a little bit of trouble with vitamin K, as it primarily occurs in dark leafy vegetables. If your picky eater is still having trouble with bok choy and collard greens, look to supplementation.
Supplement With Vitamin D When Necessary
It’s very difficult to meet your vitamin D needs through diet alone if your family eats mostly whole foods. Vitamin D is usually added to food sources like cereals, bread, dairy products, and juice because it’s extremely important and hard to find.
The only naturally occurring sources of vitamin D are fish and organ meats. You probably don’t eat a lot of beef liver at home, and you don’t have to start serving it up if you don’t want to.
You can use a children’s multivitamin that contains vitamin D to help your children get enough vitamin D. Supplements are especially helpful in plant-based households and households with intolerances or allergies to dairy, fish, or shellfish.
The Wrap-Up on Bone Health for Kids
Bone health can be complicated, but introducing your family to healthier foods and multivitamin supplements doesn’t have to be complicated. As long as you’re serving up the right foods and you’re mindful of your child’s intake of vitamins and minerals, your child will have healthy bones for decades to come.