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Calcium Supplements for Osteoporosis: Do You Need Them?

Calcium Supplements for Osteoporosis: Do You Need Them?

Mention calcium and almost everyone has heard of it before. In this day and age, it is not uncommon for people to consume calcium supplements in order to battle osteoporosis, a very common disease among aged people.

However, do we know calcium really helps? 

Today, we break down the nitty-gritty of this condition and how calcium can help. 

But first…

What is calcium and why does the body need it? 

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It is a necessary nutrient for all living organisms. For our bodies, calcium is needed in order to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. It is extremely vital. Without it, there are many potential problems and diseases that can affect the body such as osteoporosis.

Calcium also plays a role in muscle movement and cardiovascular function. In order for the body to maintain healthy communication between the brain and other parts of the body, the body needs calcium. 

Additionally, calcium is a cofactor for many enzymes. Some key enzymes such as cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterase (PDE), cannot work efficiently without calcium.

Daily calcium requirement of an adult

It is recommended by the Institute of Medicine that the average daily level of intake sufficient to meet calcium requirements of healthy individuals is at 1000mg a day. This is the amount for adults, both male and female, aged 19 to 50 years old. 

However, it is further recommended, for female adults, to increase their intake by 200mg once they hit 50 years old. Male recommended intake of calcium remains at 1000mg. 

According to Dr Robert Wemers, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist, the ability to maintain calcium balance worsens and bone loss accelerates after 50 years of age. The risk of fracture also increases with older age as the body doesn’t produce enough calcium on its own. 

Women also need more calcium than men, as we can see from the recommended daily intake. For some reason, women are more prone to osteoporosis or the thinning of bones than men. Many factors play a role in this, including the amount of calcium intake, such as physical activity, hormones and amount of vitamin D available.

Natural dietary sources of calcium

You can derive your calcium needs from several sources. Most commonly, sources of calcium can be found in calcium-rich foods such as:

  • Milk
  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese
  • Tofu
  • Green leafy vegetables (broccoli, watercress, kale)
  • Nuts and seeds (almond, sesame, chia seed)
  • Sardines and salmon

Some green vegetables, such as spinach, contain calcium. However, spinach also contains high levels of oxalic acid which reduces the body’s ability to absorb calcium according to this study.  Therefore, not all green leafy vegetables are recommended as a natural source of calcium.

What is the best form of calcium to take? 

There are two most commonly used calcium products - calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. 

Calcium carbonate supplements dissolve better in an acid environment. Therefore, it should be taken with a meal. Calcium citrate supplements however, can be taken at any time. 

What is best though, is for healthy people to eat a well-balanced diet instead of relying on supplements alone. This is because calcium is best absorbed through food. 

It may be necessary for people who have lactose intolerance to take calcium supplements as these people might have difficulty getting enough calcium through their diet alone. Those who follow a vegan diet might also not get enough calcium.

Therefore, calcium is best taken in any form. Dietary, if possible first, followed by a calcium supplement if diets do not hit the required intake.

What is Osteoporosis?

We also have to answer this question in order to have a deeper understanding about how calcium can help osteoporosis. 

Osteoporosis, or porous bone, is a disease characterized by low bone mass and the structural deterioration of bone issues. This leads to bone fragility and an increased risk of fractures of the hip, spine and wrist. Although men as well as women are affected by osteoporosis, women tend to have a younger onset of bone loss as compared with men. 

In a study, the estimated annual bone loss for men was at 0.82% per year while it was at 0.96% per year for women. In the same study, the age range where the rapid decline occurred was 74 - 79 years for men compared with 65 - 69 years for women. 

Do not worry too much though, as osteoporosis is a disease that can be prevented and treated.

Osteopenia

Osteopenia is very commonly linked to osteoporosis. It is a condition whereby you start to lose bone mass and your bone becomes weaker. This happens when the inside of your bones become brittle from the loss of calcium.

This is a very common condition, particularly as you age. However, most people who have osteopenia do not have symptoms as the loss of bone mass is not painful. 

Throughout your life, your bones constantly change. New bones will grow while your old bones break down. At a young age, the growth of new bones is faster than the breakdown. This contributes to a high bone mass. Once your body breaks down bones faster than the creation, bone mass begins to decrease. This loss of bone mass will weaken bones and cause them to break. 

The beginning of this decline is known as osteopenia. For some, osteopenia can lead to osteoporosis.

Women are more likely to have osteopenia as the rate of bone loss speeds up after menopause as estrogen levels fall. 

Who is at risk of developing osteoporosis? 

If you’ve read thus far, it is likely that you’re worried about developing osteoporosis or are researching symptoms concerning osteoporosis. It is always better to check with your local physician.

We can confidently tell you that osteoporosis is affected by several factors and that there are few outward signs of the disease. 

These factors include:-

  • Gender

Women over the age of 50 or post-menopausal women have the highest risk of developing osteoporosis. Menopause decreases the production of estrogen, a hormone which protects against excessive bone loss.

  • Age

Risk of developing osteoporosis increases as you age.

  • Bone structure and body weight

Petite and underweight people have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. This is because they have less bone to lose as compared to people with more body weight and larger frames. 

  • Nutrition

Bodies that lack sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D are more prone to developing osteoporosis.

Of course, you have to take all these into consideration before ruling out osteoporosis. However, if you think you fit into these categories, there are still certain symptoms of the disease to watch out for. 

Symptoms and diagnosis of osteoporosis

Early detection is essential when it comes to osteoporosis. It is entirely possible to detect osteoporosis in the early stages.

Watch out for the following signs:-

  • Receding gums
  • Weaker grip strength
  • Weak and brittle fingernails

Initially though, there are typically no symptoms. The reality is that in the early stages of bone loss, many people do not realize they have osteoporosis until a fall and broken bones alert them to the fact. 

Other signs and symptoms include: 

  • Back pain
  • Loss of height over time
  • A stooped posture
  • Bone that breaks easier than expected

If you have any of these symptoms, see your local doctor immediately.

How can osteoporosis be prevented?

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. It is possible to prevent this disease, which causes an estimated 2 million fractures a year. Throughout your life, there is a lot you can do to protect your bones. Also, you are never too young or too old to improve your bone health.

Ideally, osteoporosis prevention should begin in childhood but it should not stop there. Whatever age you’re at, take action to protect your bones.

  1. Get enough calcium and vitamin D
  2. Engage in regular exercise
  3. Eat food that is good for bone health such as fruit and vegetables
  4. Avoid smoking and limit alcohol to 2-3 drinks per day
  5. Maintain a healthy body-weight

Chances are, your risk of developing osteoporosis will be minimalized. 

An extra bonus way to prevent osteoporosis is to ensure your calcium intake is sufficient. 

Do calcium supplements help osteoporosis?

The short answer is, yes! Calcium is important for optimal bone health throughout your life. Although diet is the best way to get calcium, calcium supplements may be an option if your diet falls short.

However, please take into consideration how much calcium you need, the type of calcium needed and what type of calcium supplements should be taken before going any further.

Your body does not produce calcium so you must get it through other sources. To absorb calcium, your body also needs sufficient vitamin D, which you can get through going out in the sun for at least 15 - 20 minutes a day. 

There may be several factors to consider before taking calcium supplements. You may find it difficult to get enough calcium if you are lactose intolerant and limit dairy products, follow a vegan diet, are receiving long-term treatment with corticosteroids and so on.

What type of calcium supplements should be taken? 

As stated above, the two forms of calcium supplements (calcium carbonate and calcium citrate) are the optimal forms of supplements.

Examples of supplements, which can be found in pharmacies are:-

Calcium carbonate supplements: Nature’s Farm Bone Defense 180S

Nature's Farm® Bone Defense 180s

 

Calcium citrate supplements: Nature’s Farm Calcium Citramate 240S

Nature's Farm® Calcium Citramate 240s

It is advisable to consult with your doctor or physician before consuming any supplements. 

Choosing the right calcium supplements for osteoporosis 

It has been suggested that the calcium intake of an individual follows the recommended 1000mg or 1200mg, according to age and gender. 

The right calcium supplements for osteoporosis highly depends on multiple factors which include, other medication being taken, age, gender and bodily absorption.

Therefore, it is recommended that each individual see a physician before consuming any calcium supplements. 

How to take calcium supplements for best absorption? 

In order to ensure your body absorbs calcium, your body also requires vitamin D. Without enough vitamin D, your body is unable to form enough of the hormone called calcitriol (also known as the “active vitamin D”). 

This, in turn, leads to insufficient calcium absorption whether from the diet or via supplements. 

For most adults the optimal amount of vitamin D is 15mg a day. You can get vitamin D through three ways - through the skin from sunlight, from your diet and from supplements. 

Calcium supplement side effects

Generally, calcium supplements cause few, if any, side effects. However, side effects can sometimes occur. You can watch out for gas, constipation and bloating as these are side effects of calcium supplements. 

We recommend trying a few different brands or types of calcium supplements in order to find the best one suited for your body.

Medications that interact with calcium supplements

It is possible for calcium supplements to interact with many prescription medicines, including antibiotics, bisphosphonates and high blood pressure medication. Always refer to your doctor before consuming calcium supplements. 

A major no-no is mixing Ceftriaxone (Rocephin) with calcium. This can result in life-threatening damage to the lungs and kidneys. 

Other medications to watch out for would be quinolone antibiotics, tetracycline antibiotics, Digoxin (Lanoxin) and Sotalol (Betapace). 

It is advisable to be more wary of the medication you are taking before taking any calcium supplements.

Bottom Line

Calcium supplements definitely help in combating and preventing osteoporosis. It does not matter how old you are, the time to start taking calcium and taking care of your bones is now. Even if you’re older or aged, it is always advisable to start immediately as there is no time to lose.

References:

Benefits and sources of calcium [online] Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/248958#calcium-rich-foods [Accessed 04 August 2020]

Calcium Intake for Adults over Age 55 [online] Available at: https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/calcium-intake-for-adults-over-age-55/ [Accessed 04 August 2020]

Osteoporosis: Prevention with calcium Treatment [online] Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15049-osteoporosis-prevention-with-calcium-treatment [Accessed 04 August 2020]

Progressive loss of bone in the femoral neck in elderly people: longitudinal findings from the Dubbo osteoporosis epidemiology study [online] Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7950520/ [Accessed 04 August 2020]

Gender Disparities in Osteoporosis [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5380170/ [Accessed 04 August 2020]

Who is Most at RIsk for Developing Osteoporosis? [online] Available at: https://speakingofwomenshealth.com/health-library/who-is-most-at-risk-for-developing-osteoporosis [Accessed 04 August 2020]

Osteoporosis Symptoms [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/osteoporosis-symptoms#later-stages [Accessed 04 August 2020]

Preventing Osteoporosis [online] Available at:  https://www.iofbonehealth.org/preventing-osteoporosis [Accessed 04 August 2020]

Nutrition and healthy eating [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/calcium-supplements/art-20047097 [Accessed 04 August 2020]
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