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Texas Ups Its Calcium and Downs Its Antacids

Aug 18, 2007
New studies reveal that one's source of calcium may be just as important, or more so, as the total amount of calcium ingested. In fact, women who consumed less calcium, but got it from food sources, had a higher bone density than those who received at least 70% of their calcium from supplements.

This came as news to many in Texas, with high levels of chronic disease, and who have been told for years that a quality calcium supplement worked just as well as food sources -- sometimes better. Spinach, for instance, while containing calcium, exhibits certain properties that inhibit the absorption of the nutrient. It's difficult for patients to know which foods do, and do not, deliver calcium effectively; such a guessing game is not an issue with quality supplements. Health insurance companies, to yogurt lovers alike, couldn't be happier with this new research, however. Natural sources of nutrients are not only usually less expensive than prescriptions intended to inhibit bone loss -- necessary for many, but particularly for those who are not obtaining or absorbing proper levels of calcium -- but also don't require health coverage to obtain.

The standard recommendation for calcium consumption is 1,200 mg a day for young women, and 1,500 mg a day for those who are postmenopausal, preferably in combination with vitamin D. For supplements, this translates to 500 mg, taken three times daily, for maximum absorption. The only mainstream controversy until now has been the quality of the nutrient source. Toxic levels of lead and other metals have been linked with unrefined calcium from oyster shell, bone meal, and dolomite that did not legally meet the standards required to display the USP symbol, or were considered "purified."

Calcium supplements are also the most effective when taken with food, as the "slow gastric emptying following a meal optimizes calcium absorption." The acids released by the body after eating aids in the somewhat difficult assimilation of the nutrient. Those who do not take their supplement with food, then, are likely to experience fewer of the beneficial effects. Similarly, regular antacid takers have been shown to be at higher risk for hip fractures. (Watch out Austin, Dallas, and Houston -- relieving your heartburn after consuming all those gourmet-prepared hot chili peppers just may affect your bones.)

But a study released in May of this year by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that receiving at least half of one's calcium from dietary sources showed clear advantages. Of 168 Caucasian, postmenopausal women, those who received half of their calcium from food showed the highest total calcium intake (an average of 1,620 mg a day) and the highest bone density, as compared with those who received at least 70% of their calcium from supplements, or "most" of their calcium from dietary sources.

Those who received three-quarters of their calcium from supplements took in an average of 1,030 mg a day, but actually showed lower bone density than individuals who received most of their calcium (an average of 830 mg a day) from food.

For a study to reveal that lower levels of calcium intake, received from dietary sources, appears to be more beneficial for bone density than higher levels of the nutrient received from supplements is a tremendous revelation for the Western medical world. While the natural health community has been arguing this point for decades, the implication is that from what source one obtains this nutrient -- as well as others, perhaps is actually more important than simply ingesting concentrated milligrams of it due to the process of absorption. What good is a supplement, after all, if it's not properly assimilated?

The issue is complicated, but at least in terms of calcium, it may have something to do with estrogen. Estrogen plays an important role in bone health, and previous studies have shown that higher levels of calcium are linked with greater bone density and increased estrogen product breakdown in the urine. This leads to questions about the sources of calcium, and their affect on bone density. Recent studies have also linked particular antioxidants with bone density levels.

For women at the greatest risk of osteoporosis -- generally postmenopausal, Caucasian women with slight frames -- this is big news. Newer, simpler medications aimed at preventing bone loss have hit the market with tremendous force as the country's population (particularly "baby boomers") ages, and nutrient levels in mass-produced food continues to go down. But, for once, this may translate into good news. After all, what better excuse is there to eat ice cream?

Being aware of how nutrients work in your body, and how they work best, is just one part of taking care of your health. How you take care of yourself will certainly affect you as you age, and eventually your wallet, as well.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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