Calcium is an age-old ingredient, with not much new to say – who doesn’t know that calcium builds strong bones, right?
Not so fast. Postmenopausal women are routinely advised to take calcium supplements to avoid osteoporosis – loss of bone density. Only recently has evidence cemented the proposition that calcium intake in childhood and adolescence can help prevent osteoporosis later in life.1
Peak bone mass, which is obtained during childhood and adolescent growth, is a key determinant of the lifetime risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture. About 35 percent of a mature adult’s peak bone mass is built up during puberty. Retrospective studies in adults suggest that childhood calcium intake is associated with risk of later osteoporosis and bone breakage. Indeed, one study found that low milk consumption during childhood was associated with a twofold greater risk of fracture among women age 50 and older.
And this new knowledge has changed government pronouncements on the relationship between a food ingredient and a risk of disease. Just a few years ago the official message from the FDA was: “Diets high in calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.” The new guidance by FDA reflects this new research, so it now reads: “Adequate calcium as part of a healthful diet, along with physical activity, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life.”
What’s more is the avalanche of new research showing that vitamin D plays a crucial role in helping the body take up calcium. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle or misshapen. For the postmenopausal set, calcium and vitamin D have both been shown to prevent bone loss and decrease bone breaks.2,3And both nutrients influence those calcium-regulating hormones.
So another new FDA pronouncement – coming soon to a food label near you – is this: “Adequate calcium and vitamin D throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.”
A 2007 study at the Division of Bone and Mineral Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, found calcium from dietary sources was better absorbed than supplemental calcium, possibly because of the vitamin D content in dairy sources.4
Various new calcium forms are now on the market, each claiming to be better absorbed than the elemental calcium carbonate. There’s calcium citrate, calcium maleate, calcium citrate maleate, calcium formate, and more. Some claim to work better in drinks, or foods, than in supplements. Some researchers say if you want more calcium, just take more calcium and it doesn’t really matter which form you take.
Specific to bone health, a range of nutrients help calcium bone up, from magnesium to vitamin D to inulin to phosphorus. No single food contains all that, making bone-health supplements the answer for today.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of WellWise.org, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended to constitute personal medical advice.