Research shows that from the time we are children, the amount of calcium in our diets affects the way our bones are formed.
Bones are made of two kinds of cells: osteoclasts, which break down the bone, and osteoblasts, cells which make new bone. The balance between the work done by these cells leads to either healthy, solid bones or too thin or too thick bones. (Yes, there is such a thing as bones that are too thick.)
From childhood, the processes of remodeling bones goes on all the time, and calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, and strontium, to just name a few ingredients, participate.
A lot of hormones are seriously involved as well. As we age, parathormone — a hormone made by the parathyroids (pea-like glands in the neck, next to the thyroid gland) — is released. Its job is to bring calcium out of the bones, thus destroying the bones.
Taking supplemental calcium in moderate doses and special forms is helpful at turning off the bone resorption parathormone induces by approximately 20 percent.
Vitamin D is also important.
But the problem is that there is conflicting advice. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against daily vitamin D and calcium intake for primary prevention in non-institutionalized, postmenopausal women.
At the same time, the National Osteoporosis Foundation supports the use of 1,000-1,200 mg/day of calcium for women over 51. The studies are spotty. This means the decision is pretty much yours and not your doctor’s.
One of the problems I see with my patients is that they take so many supplements based on Internet, media, and direct-to-public marketing that they wind up getting tens of thousands of milligrams of calcium and too much vitamin D, which either do not get absorbed or give very high levels, creating fear of parahormone problems.
There is another issue, and that comes from studies which show there is a certain small window of opportunity for calcium supplementation.
Within the first year of its use, too much calcium can cause heart attacks, while too little is not enough to help protect our bones. So what is a person to do?
Let’s get back to those much-maligned female hormones that keep us fertile and healthy in our young years, but send us into the downward spiral of aging and deterioration once we hit menopause.
Estrogen and testosterone are crucial to maintaining the good balance in bone formation and for preventing the thinning of the bones. The loss of these hormones is devastating to our bones.
Unfortunately, not much of this is taught in medical or postgraduate schools, and it is likely that your doctor would rather give you a drug that can have side effects than give you hormones that protect your bones.
Fortunately, you should and can be your own doctor and demand hormones instead. Find a doctor experienced in administering natural hormone therapies and you'll be well on your way to healthier bones.
Posts by Erika Schwartz, M.D
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