This is such an important topic. And one that is shrouded in myth too, in my opinion. One of the questions I get asked most often is by people who are off dairy products for food intolerance reasons (many of you!) who then get worried about how they can maintain their calcium levels. I LOVE that question. It allows me to correct some myths and get on my soapbox!
In essence, bone health is far from being all about calcium and our current obsession with all things calcium is causing more problems than it is solving. Again, in my opinion. Ooh, controversial.
It's not about the amount of calcium, but more about what we do with it in our bodies. Dairy is indeed a foodstuff high in calcium and we consume a lot of it in today's diet, so why do we have a bone density problem in the Western world then? The simple fact is, before we get more complicated about it, that we need the co-factors like magnesium, Vitamin D, Vitamin K etc to actually utilise all that calcium - and many more people in my experience are woefully low in those. And I've done an awful lot of magnesium and Vit D testing in my time.
If you don't have the co-factors, you don't use the calcium very well. So what happens to it?
It goes into places it shouldn't be. As a remedial massage specialist for years, I got to feel when a muscle was hardened through calcium deposition rather than just the normal 'tense' feeling you get, if you know what I mean. Calcium deposits in muscles, around joints, in stones (think: kidney, gall etc) and arteries. We need some there obviously but personally I wouldn't want to take in an excess without the ability to use it correctly in my body, would you?
For more on this see the Osteoporosis Factsheet below. Also, here are a couple of my blog posts - put 'bone' or 'osteoporosis' into the search box at the blog to find more.
There are several well-known risk factors for osteoporosis, so it may be useful first to look at how many of those you have. Try this online Osteoporosis Risk Test by the International Osteoporosis Foundation.
The most predictive test I know is the Bone Marker Test. It looks for raised levels of certain elements released into urine when you are actively breaking down bone. It's a test done quite often in other parts of Europe but not used here in the UK very much. Goodness knows why.
I advise every woman (men too, but especially women) over 45 to have it done every 2 years. It will give you an idea of any problem well before any loss of bone density which has to be pretty significant already to even show up on a DEXA scan. Pre-warned is pre-armed.
Then quite simple to do something about it, retesting again after about 6 months to make sure the levels have dropped.
You can read more about it here in the Specific Health Condition tests on the shop.
The other tests to consider include your Vitamin D levels, red blood magnesium, or minerals generally and hormone levels, especially of oestrogen. Read the Nutrient Tests and Hormone Tests Overviews to learn how to test effectively.
If you are post-menopause, the best overall test is the Menopause Plus because it includes a bone check, hormone check and, importantly, the balance between the 'good' and 'bad' oestrogens and therefore gives an idea of your oestrogen-sensitive cancer risk. Worth doing because, again, that can be offset easily.
There is such a lot to say here I ended up writing down my thoughts for you in one of my free factsheets. In it, you will find out:
Here are a couple of bits from the factsheet to give you a flavour....
"Why it isn't about low Calcium intake...
That poor intake of Calcium is the main factor in osteoporosis is indeed questionable. If we take a look at intake levels, we find that the average Brit takes in about 800mg/day, which is far above even the Government's RNI (Recommended Nutrient Intake) of 700mg/day. In addition, several studies have shown that other cultures take in far less Calcium per day, yet suffer far fewer bone problems than we do.
Studies in Sri Lanka, for example, showed the Calcium level in bones is maintained on just 200mg/day. In another study, Bantu adults taking in 300mg Calcium/day simply don't suffer with it - and they have far better skeletons than Europeans! In Peru, another study suggested the same.
Why? Clearly it is not just about Calcium intake.
Bone needs to be thought of as a living tissue, not just as a depository of Calcium; it is changing all the time, breaking down and being built back up in a very complex system. Minerals are crucial to the body in many ways - we simply couldn't function without them. But no mineral works in isolation, rather each one is dependent on other ‘co-factors' which affect the way it is used in the body. Osteoporosis, then, is not just about the supply of Calcium as other nutrients are needed to ensure the Calcium is used properly...."
"So, how can we prevent osteoporosis?
As explained above, the number one priority is to reduce or avoid the Calcium-depleting diet and lifestyle factors. These include avoiding too much protein (Atkins dieters take note!) which causes the body to become too acidic rather than alkaline and therefore alters cellular metabolism and absorption.
You should also avoid processed foods, ready meals and switch to healthier choices, include plenty of phytoestrogen foods to maintain oestrogen levels, significantly reduce tea, coffee, chocolate, salt, sugar, smoking and alcohol which all block absorption, stop yo-yo dieting and avoid medications and drugs that block Calcium absorption including the birth control pill.
We rely too much on dairy foods for our Calcium, despite the fact that it is a major factor in the development of many illnesses. It is far better to lower dairy intake (cream, yogurt, cheese, milk) and eat better, less excessive and more absorbable sources of Calcium such as green vegetables and nuts instead. Remember, eggs are not a dairy food – and eating a healthier diet should ensure your levels of Calcium anyway.
Your second priority is to make sure you are digesting and absorbing effectively. People with digestive problems have a slightly higher risk of osteoporosis than normal. In fact, anything that affects absorption capability is a major factor as far as we’re concerned, in the development of any chronic problem since a lack of nutrients at cellular level is bad news.
Many people do not produce enough stomach acid – even those with symptoms of over acidity – so it is important to identify if this is an issue and resolve it...."
To read more, download the the full factsheet here.
There is a ton of info out there for you. One of the best overviews I've read (apart from mine, of course!) is this one from Life Extension.
I can't say I agree wth their stance on bio-identical hormones at all, and I prefer a matrix type calcium, as explained in my factsheet - simply because I've had better results with it - but otherwise, it gives a lot of useful info for you and should start you off thinking about the right factors, at least.
Just ask if you need help with what tests or supplements would be the same in the UK.
Click here for more info on what's in it ...
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The information given is not meant to be a substitute for seeing a health professional. It is our opinion only, based on several years of natural medicine practice and research. We're sure you'll find it useful, but please use it wisely and always exercise common sense.