Calcium: Gotta Have It for Healthy Bones

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Got milk? That’s not just an advertising slogan. It’s a legitimate question. Milk and other stomach acid to aid in calcium absorption)

  • , which reduces calcium absorption
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Excess sodium
  • Excessive red meat
  • If you take a calcium supplement, take no more than 500 or 600 milligrams at a time. It will be absorbed better that way.

    Importance of Vitamin D

    While there’s a possibility you may be taking in too much calcium, chances are you’re not taking in enough vitamin D, Watts says. “Vitamin D is underutilized,” he says, observing that the vitamin is not found naturally in most of the foods we eat, and the amount added to milk or multivitamins is not enough to maximize calcium absorption. Most of the vitamin D we get is produced by the body via exposure to sunlight.

    “More D is better,” says Watts, who believes that the recommended daily allowance is too low and advises patients to have their levels analyzed, and if needed, take additional vitamin D-3 as a supplement. Vitamin D-3, also called cholecalciferol, is the form of vitamin D that best supports bone health. (According to the Institute of Medicine, the tolerable upper intake for people 14 years and older is 2,000 IU, but many experts have challenged that limit.)

    As a bone-building ingredient, don’t overlook protein in your diet either, Watts advises. While very high levels of protein may cause “calcium-wasting,” Watts says that researchers have found that hip fracture patients who were given a mild protein supplement were released from the hospital sooner than those who weren’t.

    “It’s like a symphony orchestra,” says Robert P. Heaney, MD, John A. Creighton University Professor and professor of medicine at Creighton University. “If you don’t take in enough protein [Heaney recommends 62 grams a day], then calcium alone, or even with vitamin D, won’t do the trick,” he says. “It’s the sum of the parts that’s important, not the individual elements alone.”

    Exercise and Sunshine Part of the Program

    Those elements include not only diet, but exercise and sunlight as well, Donadio says.

    Those who exercise on a “regular and ongoing” basis have a significantly lower risk of , says Donadio, who recommends walking for at least 30 minutes a day, and preferably outdoors to get the benefits of sunlight, which provides natural vitamin D. Strength training, movement techniques such as tai chi (which improves balance and coordination, thereby reducing the risk of falls), even sexual activity can improve your bone health by increasing your estrogen levels.

    The less stress you feel, the better, Donadio says, since stress hormones, especially cortisol, deplete calcium reserves.

    Are You at Risk of Osteoporosis?

    Are you at risk for developing osteoporosis? The National Osteoporosis Foundation lists these risk factors:

    • Age. The older you are, the greater your risk of osteoporosis as your bones become weaker and less dense.
    • Gender. Men can develop osteoporosis, but the condition is more prevalent in women. Women lose bone more rapidly than men because of hormonal changes related to menopause.
    • Family/Personal History. If your mother has a history of vertebral fractures, you may be more susceptible to osteoporosis as well. If you have suffered a fracture yourself as an adult, your risk is also greater for future fractures.
    • Race. White and Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than African-American and Hispanic women (although they, too, are at risk).
    • Bone Structure and Body Weight. If you’re small-boned and thin (under 127 pounds) you’re at greater risk.
    • Menopause/Menstrual History. Normal or early menopause (brought about naturally or surgically) increases your chances of developing osteoporosis. Women who stop menstruating before menopause because of conditions such as anorexia or bulimia, or because of excessive physical exercise, may also lose bone tissue and develop osteoporosis.
    • Lifestyle. Cigarette smoking, drinking too much alcohol, consuming an inadequate amount of calcium, or getting little or no weight-bearing exercise increases your chances of developing osteoporosis.
    • /Chronic Diseases. Medications used to treat chronic medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, endocrine disorders (such as an underactive ), seizure disorders, and gastrointestinal diseases may have side effects that can damage bone and lead to osteoporosis.