Calcium Supplementation–Healthy or Not??

There is a great deal of controversy about calcium supplementation these days–and with good reason. Many studies are linking calcium supplementation with increased risk of heart disease. In addition, there is question as to whether or not calcium supplements reduce fracture risk and osteoporosis. So, let’s back up . . .

Calcium has long been promoted as a means of reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Other minerals have also been touted as the answer: strontium, boron, magnesium, etc. In addition, we thought that the revelation of the extent of Vitamin D deficiency and thus increasing supplementation of Vit. D would be the answer. We certainly do need all these nutrients, and supplementation is sometimes required. However, some of the mixed results may be due to the nature of how we are making measurements.

The goal is to reduce death. There is a high rate of death after a “senile” bone fracture (think hip fracture in the elderly). We use imaging (often referred to as DEXA) to determine bone strength. The problem is that DEXA measures the density of the outer layer of the bone (cortex). We’ve learned, however, that the inner part of the bone (trabecular structure) is just as important if not more so–and trabecular bone health is NOT measured on DEXA. Calcium can increase the density appearance on imaging, but imagine this: a piece of chalk would also show high density–but it’s quite fragile. I sure don’t want my bones to be like chalk! So, we’re using a measurement that collects information on only part of the bone structure and trying to link that with reduced bone fracture to try and extend life. Good goals but we may need more work here!

Bottom line: eat a diet with lots of a variety of fruits and veggies, include some proteins, too. (By the way, ponder this: if dairy was the answer to osteoporosis, why does the United States still have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis?)

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