Osteoporosis Symptoms, Prevention and Supplements

Osteoporosis, which literally translated means “porous bones”, is a condition characterized by weak and brittle bones. In fact, osteoporosis can cause bones to become so weak that even mild stress may result in severe fractures. Most often osteoporosis is a result of insufficient levels of calcium, phosphorus and other essential minerals in the bones. However, osteoporosis can also be a result of certain endocrine disorders and excessive use of drugs such as corticosteroids. Individuals suffering from osteoporosis may experience bone fractures – most frequently in the spine, hip or wrist. Osteoporosis is often thought of as an old women’s disease but it can also affect men and children. But it is never too late – or too soon – to do something about osteoporosis. There are a number of things you can do to strengthen your bones and keep them healthy throughout life.

Osteoporosis Prevention

One of the most important factors in mitigating your risk of getting osteoporosis is to make sure your body receives adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D. The same can be said for individuals who already have osteoporosis, getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D can help to prevent bones from becoming weaker, and may even help replace bone that’s been lost.

If considering supplementation with calcium its important to know that the amount of calcium your body requires to stay healthy changes as you grow older. The human body requires the most calcium during childhood and adolescence, during pregnancy and breast-feeding and during times when the skeleton is growing quickly. Older men and postmenopausal women also require more calcium. As the body grows older it is unable to absorb calcium as well as it did in earlier years. Older aged individuals may also take medications that interfere with calcium absorption whereby prompting the need for supplemental calcium. Individuals diagnosed with osteoporosis are often required to increase calcium and vitamin D consumption, and my even be prescribed certain bone-building medications and hormone supplements.

Supplements that may be helpful for osteoporosis

While calcium should not be used as the only treatment for osteoporosis, supplementation with calcium will help to prevent the onset of this debilitating condition. The protective effective of calcium on bone mass is one of the few health claims permitted on supplement labels by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Although most health professionals would agree that calcium supplementation can reduce the risk of osteoporosis not all research supports this assertion. In fact, a few studies show that for women shortly after becoming menopausal calcium supplementation does not correlate with reduced risk of osteoporosis. However, supplementation with calcium has been shown help reduced risk of osteoporosis for women a few years following menopause.

Other trials have shown calcium supplementation to provide positive effects in women taking hormone replacement therapy, younger girls, and premenopausal women. Calcium supplementation is often recommended by doctors as way to lessen the risk of osteoporosis and to help those with osteoporosis. In addition to the 500 to 600 mg of calcium consumed in the average daily diet, approximately 900 mg of supplemental calcium should be taken in order to achieve 1,500 mg of calcium per day – the amount that many health professionals believe is ideal.

 

Recommended Calcium Intakes (milligrams per day)   

National Academy of
Sciences (1997)

 

National Institutes of
Health (1994)

Infants, Children, and Young Adults

Birth-6 months

210

 

Birth-6 months

400

6 months-12 months

270

 

6 months-12 months

600

1-3 years

500

 

1-10 years

800-1,200

4-8 years

800

 

 

 

9-18 years

1,300

 

11-24 years

1,200-1,500

Adult Women

19-50 years

1,000

 

25-50 years

1,000

51 and older

1,200

 

51-64 years, taking estrogen

1,000

 

 

 

51-64 years, not taking estrogen

1,500

 

 

 

65 and older

1,500

Adult Men

19-50 years

1,000

 

25-64 years

1,000

51 and older

1,200

 

65 and older

1,500

 

Summary of recommendations for optimal calcium intake made by the consensus development panel convened by the NIH, June 1994 and the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, August 1997. Optimal calcium intake refers to the level of calcium consumption from the diet plus supplements, if needed, that is necessary for a person to maximize peak adult bone mass and minimize bone loss in later years.

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD; National Osteoporosis Foundation, Washington, DC.


Vitamin D is essential for strengthening bones because it increases calcium absorption. A small vitamin D deficiency, which is not uncommon among the elderly and the physically fit, may increase age-related loss of bone mass that may lead to premature onset of osteoporosis. Research indicates that supplemental vitamin D may reduce bone loss in women who don’t get enough vitamin D from their diet. Notwithstanding the proposed benefits of Vitamin D supplementation, the value of supplementing with vitamin D alone as it relates to the prevention of osteoporosis is still not clear as vitamin D is usually taken in conjunction with calcium.

In the elderly vitamin D and calcium work together to fight the effects of osteoporosis. Double-blind research shows that elderly women who took with 1,200 mg of supplemental calcium and 800 IU of vitamin D per day experienced much lower rates of osteoporosis related falls and fractures than women who only supplemented with calcium.

Notwithstanding continuing controversy, many health care professionals recommend 400 to 800 IU of supplemental vitamin D per day as determined by diet, lifestyle and exposure to the sun.

Other supplements that are believe to be beneficial for individuals with osteoporosis include both fish oil and evening primrose oil (EPO). The results of one trial showed that when elderly women with osteoporosis supplemented with 4 grams of fish oil daily for 4 months they showed improved calcium absorption and quite possibly increases in bone mass. Many researchers believe that fish oil combined with EPO may prove even more effective for individuals with osteoporosis. In one 18-month trial women who supplemented with 6 grams of a mixture of fish oil and EPO experienced no spinal bone loss and an amazing 3% increase in bone mineral density.

Supporting Literature

Heaney RP, Dowell MS, Barger-Lux MJ. Absorption of calcium as the carbonate and citrate salts, with some observations on method. Osteoporosis Int. 1999; 9:19-23.
Hosking DJ, Ross PD, et al. Evidence that increased calcium intake does not prevent early postmenopausal bone loss. Clin Ther 1998;20:933–944.
Bonjour JP, Carrie AL, Ferrari S, et al. Calcium-enriched foods and bone mass growth in prepubertal girls: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Invest 1997;99:1287–1294.
Droisy R, Collette J, Chevallier T, et al. Effects of two 1-year calcium and vitamin D3 treatments on bone remodeling markers and femoral bone density in elderly women. Curr Ther Res 1998;59:850–860.
Welten DC, Kemper HC, Post GB, et al. A meta-analysis of the effect of calcium intake on bone mass in young and middle aged females and males. J Nutr 1995;125.
Brot C, Jorgensen N, et al. Relationships between bone mineral density, serum vitamin D metabolites and calcium: phosphorus intake in healthy perimenopausal women. J Intern Med 1999;245:509–616.
Talbot JR, Guardo P, Seccia S, et al. Calcium bioavailability and parathyroid hormone acute changes after oral intake of dairy and nondairy products in healthy volunteers. Osteoporosis Int. 1999; 10:137-142.
Chapuy MC, Arlot ME, Duboeuf F, et al. Vitamin D3 and calcium to prevent hip fractures in elderly women. N Engl J Med 1992;327:1637–1642.
Maki BE, Holliday PJ, Topper AK. A prospective study of postural balance and risk of falling in an ambulatory and independent elderly population. J Gerontol 1994;49.
Reid IR, Ames RW, et al. Long-term effects of calcium supplementation on bone loss and fractures in postmenopausal women: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Med 1995;98:331–334.
Pfeifer M, Begerow B, et al. Effects of a short-term vitamin D and calcium supplementation on body sway and secondary hyperparathyroidism in elderly women. J Bone Mineral Res 2000;15:1113–1118.
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