What are the most important supplements for osteoporosis prevention? We all know that calcium is vital, as it is a key mineral in building healthy bones (to read in detail how calcium is used in building bone, please refer to my page on calcium and osteoporosis). But, there are other supplements that are also important! Vitamin D, for example is crucial for bone health, second only to calcium. One of the problems we have, though, is that both of these supplements for osteoporosis, Calcium and Vitamin D, are very difficult to get in sufficient quantities from the foods we eat. Even if you're eating a healthy diet for osteoporosis prevention and treatment, you'll likely still have to take supplements - more about that later.
Other vitamins and minerals, such as the B Vitamins, Vitamin K, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Zinc are also critical for bone health, but for the most part are consumed in sufficient quantities. So, when it comes to supplements for osteoporosis prevention, calcium and Vitamin D are the most important, especially for those people with osteoporosis risk factors, such as post-menopausal women.
The US Recommended Daily Allowance (US RDA) for males ages 10-70 is 1,000mg per day, and for males over 70 it is 1,200mg per day. For females, the US RDA is 1,000mg for ages 19-50, and 1,200mg for women over 50.
Most adults typically get only 200 to 600mg per day from the foods they eat - not nearly enough. Additionally, older adults are less able to absorb the calcium they ingest, so they are probably getting even less. And, when you're deficient in calcium, your body will pull it from the bones to meet other calcium needs. So, getting the higher dosage recommended by the NIH is advisable.
Calcium comes in a number of different forms. The two most common forms of calcium supplements for osteoporosis are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is more popular and less expensive than calcium citrate, but it is more difficult for the body to absorb than calcium citrate. Because of this issue with absorption, it should be taken with meals, as the stomach will be producing maximum gastric acids at this time (the gastric acids help break it down and allow for better absorption). Some people report mild indigestion, gas, bloating and constipation when taking calcium carbonate.
You can test your calcium carbonate supplement for absorption by dropping a capsule in about 6 oz of white vinegar. If the capsule doesn't dissolve in about 30 minutes, it probably won't dissolve in your stomach either - look for a different brand.
The best calcium supplement for osteoporosis is calcium citrate. Calcium citrate is a calcium salt made from citric acid. It dissolves much more easily in the stomach and is thereby easier for the body to absorb. Because of this, it doesn't need to be taken with meals. It also is less likely to cause gastrointestinal distress than calcium carbonate. The downside is that it is more expensive.
An important thing to remember about calcium is that the human body can only absorb about 500mg at one time. So, you really need to take smaller doses of these supplements for osteoporosis more often in order to get your RDA. To get 1,000mg per day of calcium, you will need to take two separate doses of 500mg.
Be advised that you really should not take more than the recommended daily requirement of calcium. An excess of the recommended calcium for osteoporosis can lead to the milk-alkali syndrome (Burnett's Syndrome). In this syndrome, an excess of calcium salts build up in the tissue, requiring the kidneys to work very hard to remove them. In extreme cases, Burnett's Syndrome can lead to renal failure and death.
Vitamin D plays a critical role in building healthy bones. Why? Vitamin D allows the body to more easily absorb calcium and phosphorus, the two minerals most important in building bones. Unlike with other vitamins, our bodies actually produce Vitamin D naturally under the right circumstances. Vitamin D is often called "the sunshine vitamin", because when our skin is exposed to the right wavelength of sunlight, our skin cells can produce it (from a derivative of cholesterol that is in those cells). It is then stored in our fat cells (it is a fat-soluble vitamin), mainly in the liver, until needed. If the body produces enough Vitamin D, it can actually build up a reserve.
In order to produce Vitamin D, our bodies require significant exposure to the sun. In latitudes above 35 degrees north, the sun is only strong enough from the spring through the fall (and only during the peak daylight hours) to enable us to produce Vitamin D in our skin. During the winter months, the sun is not strong enough at any time of the day to enable our bodies to produce Vitamin D. Wearing sunscreen also affects Vitamin D production. A sunscreen of SPF 15 will absorb 99% of the sun's radiation, effectively killing the skin's ability to produce Vitamin D. So, it is recommended that you get 5 to 15 minutes of sunshine per day, without sunscreen, during the spring through the summer months. In someone with fair skin, this amount of sun exposures can result in 20,000 IU of Vitamin D. An issue of note is that dark-skinned people in northern latitudes are at a real disadvantage for Vitamin D production due to the greater amount of melanin in their skin. To learn more please read my page Vitamin D and Sunlight.
Vitamin D is not typically available in sufficient quantities in the foods we eat. Vitamin D created by our skin is in the form known as D3 (cholecalciferol). It is not a biologically active form, and must be stored in the liver where it is then converted to another form (Calcifediol) and enters our blood circulation. Calcifediol is eventually converted to the biologically active form (Calcitriol). Calcitriol, interestingly enough, then plays a role in calcium absorption.
While plant foods (fruits and veggies) contain so many wonderful nutrients, very few plants produce Vitamin D, so eating lots of these foods won't really boost your Vitamin D intake. Fungi like mushrooms produce a form known as D2 (ergocalciferol) through photosynthesis. It is not as easily converted to calcifediol and calcitriol as is D3. So, these foods are not a great source of Vitamin D either.
Foods that are high in Vitamin D3 include oily fish (like salmon, sardines and mackerel) and egg yolks. Even though these foods are good sources, it would be hard to eat enough on a daily basis to insure adequate Vitamin D levels. Some foods (cereal and milk) are fortified with Vitamin D, but it is often the less desirable D2. Vitamin D supplements for osteoporosis really are important - as you can see, it's just too hard to get enough from other sources. Find out more on my foods rich in Vitamin D page.
If our bodies aren't able to produce a sufficient amount of Vitamin D, supplements are needed. Since Vitamin D plays such a critical role in calcium absorption, and adequate calcium is required for building bones, it's really important that we all get enough Vitamin D. Women after menopause are at higher risk for osteoporosis, and cannot afford any reduction in the amount of calcium they absorb.
Additionally, as we age, our skin becomes much less effective at synthesizing Vitamin D - only 25% of a younger adult's ability. So, Vitamin D and calcium are critical supplements in women over 50 and elderly men. I want to add that there has been some controversy regarding calcium supplementation in men - I suggest that men discuss this with their doctors before starting a calcium supplement program.
The US RDA for Vitamin D is 600 IU (15 mcg) per day for males and females between the ages of 19 and 70. For men and women over 70, it is 800 IU (20 mcg) per day. Some health care providers, familiar with osteoporosis, recommend higher dosages, up to 1,000 IU for people at higher risk. Also, remember to always purchase Vitamin D3, as this is the form produced naturally by your body, and it is more effective than D2. Recent information is also suggesting that much higher doses are probably beneficial and pose little risk. As always, it is a good idea to discuss supplements for osteoporosis with your health care professional. You can read my page on Vitamin D and osteoporosis to learn more.
To learn more about osteoporosis alternative treatments, please refer to my page on natural treatment for osteoporosis.. A couple of the best steps you can take toward preventing and treating osteoporosis are to follow healthy eating guidelines and get plenty of healthy exercise. Finally, check back here often - as I discover new information on treating osteoporosis, I will be sure to add it here. So, go and create the healthy lifestyle you deserve!
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