Osteoporosis and Calcium
In the time that it takes you to read this sentence right now, someone has just experienced a fracture related to osteoporosis.
This startling statistic highlights the real-life consequences of a disease that affects hundreds of millions of men and women. In fact, the International Osteoporosis Foundation reports that two out of three women over the age of 50 will experience an osteoporotic fracture, as will four out of five men.
This alarming trend puts the spotlight on diet and nutrients, specifically calcium, that can help minimize fracture risks and protect you against the worst of osteoporosis.
What Is Calcium Good For?
The mineral calcium plays important roles throughout your entire body. For example, your body uses the mineral to activate your muscles, control the production and release of various hormones, circulate blood, and even help your brain to communicate with the rest of your body.
But one of the most well-known effects that calcium has is on your bones and teeth.
Your bones and teeth are, in a sense, truly alive. As day-to-day life wears them down, the tissues in your bones and teeth repair themselves.
Calcium is one of the essential components in this process, and the mineral helps to renew the strength, mass and health of your bones and teeth. In fact, more than 99 percent of the calcium in your body is found in your teeth and bones.
This is why, while the true cause of osteoporosis and loss of bone mass has yet to be truly defined, researchers agree that calcium plays a vital role in your bone health and osteoporosis management.
Calcium for Osteoporosis: What Does the Evidence Say?
Is calcium helpful for osteoporosis or just a myth? Let’s take a look at the research.
Because loss of bone tissue and mass are the key markers of osteoporosis, and because calcium is one of the major constituents in bones and bone tissue, it makes sense that people think calcium plays a big role in bone strength and staving off osteoporosis.
The British Medical Journal recently did a systematic review of 59 different controlled studies on calcium and osteoporosis. This included studies that looked at how the calcium in your diet might affect your bone health.
The researchers noted that increasing the amount of calcium you ate, whether through food or through calcium supplements, was linked with improved bone mineral density.
Another review, this one of hundreds of other studies, has also linked calcium intake with reduced osteoporosis and a reduced risk of fractures.
This is one of many reasons why the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that “adequate, lifelong dietary calcium intake is necessary to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D and performing regular, weight-bearing exercise are also important to build maximum bone density and strength.”
While calcium isn’t the cure-all for this bone disease, your doctor may use calcium-rich foods and calcium supplements along with other treatments to restore your bone health and strength.
That being said, there are still many myths about osteoporosis:
- It's a natural part of aging: WRONG. It's preventable and not inevitable.
- Only women get osteoporosis: WRONG. Nearly 20 percent of Caucasian men in America will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture.
- Weak bones can't get stronger: WRONG. Through diet, supplements, exercise and other treatments, you can strengthen your bones.
Vitamin D: The Secret Link to Calcium’s Success
Your risks of osteoporosis, loss of bone mass and bone strength, and fractures goes up as you age. Likewise, the amount of calcium that you need changes based on your age.
Adult men and women ages 19 to 50 years need 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. And while that dose stays the same for men ages 51-70, women of the same age need extra: 1,200 mg of calcium a day. If you're over 70 years of age, both men and women need 1,200 mg of calcium daily.
But it’s not just about calcium itself. Every nutrient that you eat is part of a complex digestive process. In this case, we’re talking about vitamin D.
“Vitamin D is required for optimal calcium absorption,” reports the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. “Several other nutrients (and non-nutrients) influence the retention of calcium by the body.”
Making sure you get enough vitamin D in your day or taking a calcium supplement that also includes vitamin D, can help you to absorb all the beneficial aspects of calcium.
In general, adults ages 19-70 need 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D a day. Once you are age 71 or older, this requirement goes up to 800 IUs.
One of the best sources of vitamin D is through safe sunlight exposure. You can also find vitamin D in foods like egg yolks, fish liver oil, fatty fish and fortified kinds of milk and juices.