It's Never Too Late to Begin Taking Calcium Supplements

Studies published by endocrinologist Robert Preventing Osteoporosis | Bone Disease Prevention | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Preventing Osteoporosis

It's Never Too Late to Begin Taking Calcium Supplements

Studies published by endocrinologist Robert Heaney (Heaney RP. New England Journal of Medicine 1993; 328: 503-505.) suggest that it is never too late to start calcium supplement treatment. Reductions in fracture rates can occur within 18 months of starting calcium supplementation.

Calcium intake may be most important in young adults, beginning many years before most people even think about osteoporosis. In fact, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, by age 20, the average women has aquired 98% of her skeletal mass. Concern about calcium intake and bone density should begin decades before menopause.

What Causes Calcium Loss?

Research into what causes calcium loss in ongoing. Estrogen levels are a significant factor in calcium loss and osteoporosis in women (see below). Women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis than men in part because men have larger, stronger bones. Women are at the highest risk of osteoporosis during and after menopause, when estrogen levels decrease.

Various studies have also shown that diets that are high in protein (particularly animal protein) cause calcium to be lost through the urine. One study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, revealed that women who followed a vegetarian diet for at least 20 years only lost 18% of their bone mineral density while women who did not eat a vegetarian diet lost an average of 35% of bone mass by the time they reached 80 years of age.

In another study endocrinologist Deborah Sellmeyer, MD, of the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) found that an acidic diet may increase the chances of hip fractures. Acidic diets contain large portions of protein-rich foods such as meats and cheeses. In the study, Dr. Sellmeyer found that 9,000 women 65 years of age or older were 3.7 times more likely to suffer hip fractures if their diets were highly acidic. Researchers say a balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, bananas, apricots, and spinach, can help prevent bone loss.

Food Acid Load*
Parmesan cheese 34.2
Reduced-fat cheddar 26.4
Egg yolk 23.4
Beef, lean 7.8
Spaghetti 6.5
Whole milk 0.7
Broccoli -1.2
Apples -2.2
Oranges -2.7
Tomatoes -5.5
Spinach -14.0

*acid load indicates the index of acid-forming potential per hundred grams.

Source: Thomas Remer and Friedrich Manz, Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Reprinted in U.S. News & World Report, October 30, 2000

Additional Resources and References