If you are a woman of a certain age, your doctor has probably talked with you about osteoporosis. Because bone density drops as one ages, this is one of those ‘silent’ diseases that affect post-menopausal women (and men as well) and the usual suggestion is to take calcium, whether or not you have signs of the disease. Most women have been told to take 1200 mg of calcium a day once they are past 50, and to add some Vitamin D to help in the absorption.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, now there is research that perhaps that is too much calcium after all. According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch, a publication of Harvard Medical School, some doctors believe women can get the same protection with just half as much calcium. In fact, the World Health Organization says 500 mg a day is sufficient.
Since the 1970’s, doctors have recommended 1200 mg a day as a way to preserve a woman’s bone density by maintaining a calcium balance in the blood. This was based on a few small studies, but now doctors are saying there isn’t any real evidence that consuming calcium will help prevent fractures. More recent clinical trials including calcium only, calcium with Vitamin D, and placebos were performed and the results were that women who took supplements were no less likely to break their hips than women who took the placebos.
In fact, according to the research, there are downsides in taking supplements, but not necessarily for those who get their calcium through their food. There is an increased risk of kidney stones, heart attacks and a rise in blood pressure if one takes supplemental calcium.
All seem to agree that Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, but because we have been warned against sun exposure, too many people are not getting enough Vitamin D these days. If you cover up in the sun or use a lot of sun screen, you are limiting the amount of Vitamin D and may need to take up to 1000 IU of that supplement a day. Or so they tell us today! Sorry for the sarcasm, but many women already report they feel like guinea pigs when it comes to what the medical profession tells us is ‘right’ for our bodies.
Bottom line? Both Vitamin D and calcium are necessary for building bone. Don’t throw away those supplement bottles, just reduce your daily intake. Dr. Walter Willet of Harvard suggests we lower the calcium and raise the amount of Vitamin D. – 500 to 700 mg of calcium a day and 800-1000 IIU of D. Don’t forget that you also should be getting calcium from your diet…dairy products, green vegetables and sardines are good sources of calcium.
So, until further notice … or the next study is released … take a walk in the sunshine or try a Vitamin D supplement for your bone health. Increase your exercise, stop smoking and eat a good diet and you are on your way to reducing hip fractures and keeping your bones strong.