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November 12th, 2014



My patients often ask me about milk intake as a way to prevent osteoporosis in elders. While milk is beneficial to general health, keep in mind that excessive consumption can raise blood cholesterol, increasing the chance of developing narrowed arteries.  However, calcium intake (not milk) is not relevant to plaque forming in the arteries, but excessive consumption of calcium can lead to other health risks (this will be discussed later in the article).

 Milk can contribute to the prevention of osteoporosis as it is rich in calcium, an important nutrient for bones. Furthermore, calcium has additional health benefits as it plays an important role in regulating the heart rate, the nervous system, muscle contractions, and blood coagulation.  Studies have also shown a link between calcium intake and colon cancer.

For maximum health benefits, calcium should be taken in conjunction with vitamin D.  Together they act to maintain healthy bone density, particularly in menopausal women and older men.  The calcium requirement for adults under 50 years of age is around 800 -1000 milligrams per day.  For those above 50 years, the calcium intake should increase up to 1,200 milligrams per day.

As for the relationship between calcium and bones, it has long been known that calcium is crucial for healthy growth development.  This is especially important for children growing into adulthood as healthy bone density develops during this time.   Once the chance to fulfill potential growth has passed, it cannot be fully regained.

Studies show that once osteoporosis sets in, additional calcium intake does not increase bone density and offset the condition. However, elders that have a regular calcium intake do show a trend of having higher bone density than those who do not.  Therefore, may doctors and nutritionists agree that people over the 50 years of age should increase their calcium intake per day.  However, readers should keep in mind that many other factors can contribute to loss of bone mass.  Such factors may include genetics, lack of exercise, obesity or other mineral deficiencies (besides calcium).

Recently, a study by the American Cancer Society shows that calcium may reduce the risk of colon cancer and it recurrence (Cancer Causes and Control, Vol. 14 No. 1:1-12).

For those interested in increasing their calcium intake, there are two options available; food and supplements.  Calcium rich foods include small, dried fish and salmon; leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli or bok choi; sesame seeds and almonds.

Supplementary calcium is usually combined with other minerals, but this does not decrease the efficiency of calcium absorption.  However, there are studies that claim calcium should be consumed along with vitamin C (Calcium citrate supplement), or should be taken from natural sources (coral reefs) as it easier to absorb, though there is not enough evidence to support these claims.   Another way to increase the body’s efficiency in absorbing calcium, try to ensure that you receive sufficient Vitamin D.

Correct calcium intake should not exceed 500 milligrams, as the body can only absorb a certain amount each day.  If the dose exceeds 500 milligrams the body will simply discard it through the waste removal system.  However, if consuming over 2,500 milligrams of calcium per day, this could lead to development of gallstones.

Factors to keep in mind with calcium are that fiber and certain medications will hinder absorption.  It is best to take your calcium and fiber supplements at separate meals.  Medication that protects the stomach’s lining will also prevent calcium absorption.  Likewise, calcium will prevent certain medications from being absorbed.  So if you are on steroids, tetracycline, or iron; refrain from taking calcium supplements for awhile.

The best method to ensure that your body receives enough calcium is through a healthy diet, this means eating sufficient amounts of green leafy vegetables.  This will also guarantee that you are consuming other nutrients and minerals that are vital for healthy bones.   However, regular exercise will always be more important and necessary to your body than any supplementary product.  All that is needed is 20-30 minutes per session, 3-4 times a week.  It is easy, free, and satisfaction guaranteed!

Prof Nithi Mahanonda is consultant cardiologist and interventionist, Perfect Heart Institute.



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