Supplements in the News

Girls: Keep Up the Calcium for Healthy Bones
Published Friday, May 9, 2008

Healthnotes Newswire (May 8, 2008)—Calcium helps build stronger bones in young girls—but they need to get enough of it without interruption, reports a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A recent analysis of several studies concerning calcium intake and bone health in young girls questioned the value of calcium supplementation for increasing bone density. The new study incorporated additional measures of bone turnover as well as bone accumulation in the body to see the effects of calcium supplementation in preteen girls. (It’s thought that bone accumulation more accurately predicts bone health later in life than looking at bone density alone.)

In the new study, 96 girls (average age 12 years) getting low amounts of calcium (about 636 mg per day on average) were given a supplement providing 792 mg of calcium per day or a placebo for 18 months. During the supplementation period and for two years afterward, they were tested on measures of bone density, bone mineral content, and the rate of bone turnover in the body.

Girls who took the calcium supplement had significantly greater bone density, higher rates of bone accumulation, and less bone turnover than girls in the placebo group during the supplementation period. Two years after the supplements had been discontinued, however, the positive effects were no longer seen. “Calcium supplementation enhances bone mineral accrual in teenage girls, but the effect is short-lived,” the authors said.

An Adequate Intake (AI) level for calcium of 1,300 mg per day has been set for children ages 9 to 13. The Continuing Survey of Food Intakes of Individuals found that 87% of girls between ages 12 and 19 do not get the recommended intake for calcium and that teen girls get an average of only about 600 to 700 mg of calcium per day.

During childhood, the rate of bone accumulation is greater than the rate of bone loss. By middle age, bone loss about equals gain. In women, bone loss exceeds gains after menopause. So, it’s important to maximize bone accumulation during youth to help protect against osteoporosis later in life.

Tips to boost calcium intake

• Include low-fat dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt in the diet.

• Choose calcium-rich vegetables like broccoli, Chinese cabbage, kale, and turnip greens.

• Coffee, tea, and sodas can lead to calcium loss; opt for water or calcium-fortified fruit juices instead.

• Vitamin D enhances calcium absorption, so make sure to get some of the sunshine vitamin and look for vitamin D–fortified foods.

• Too much sodium can cause the body to dump precious calcium; try lemon juice in place of salt in dips and spreads or squeezed over steamed veggies.

• Choose vegetable protein, as excess protein in meat products can lead to calcium loss. Select tofu that’s packed in a calcium solution for a boost of this essential mineral.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:455–62)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.


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