Are you a menopausal woman who is taking a high dose of vitamin D supplements to protect your bones? It turns out that those supplements may not be doing you any good.
So first, let me share a little biology about bones. The body breaks down old bone and creates new bone through bone turnover. However, women, who already have smaller and thinner bones than men, begin to see a decline in the creation of new bone after the age of 30; furthermore, the loss of bone mass accelerates after menopause. A diagnosis of osteoporosis happens when the body can’t replace bone as fast as it’s broken down.
Here are some interesting facts, courtesy of the National Osteoporosis Foundation:
- Approximately 10 million Americans are estimated to osteoporosis. Of those, about 80 percent are women.
- Approximately 50 percent of women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
- A woman’s risk of breaking a hip is equal to her combined risk of developing breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
Now let’s look at the research. This new study out Winthrop University Hospital followed 159 postmenopausal women. The women were placed into one of four groups. The first group took a daily combination supplement that had vitamin D and calcium. A second group took 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. A third group took 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily. The fourth group took placebos.
The researchers measured bone turnover markers over the course of six months in order to see the impact that the various supplements and placebo had on bone health. Interestingly, they found that the women who took daily vitamin D did not have a decline in bone turnover markers, although they did see a decrease in the parathyroid hormone levels which is often caused by the interaction between vitamin D and calcium. In comparison, the group that took daily calcium supplements had a significant decline in bone turnover markers.
“These findings suggest that vitamin D supplements over the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) do not protect bone health, whereas calcium supplements do have an effect,” said Dr. John Aloia, who was the study’s lead author. “Women do need to be cautious about the possibility of vascular side effects from too much calcium and should consult their physicians about whether their diet is adequate or whether they should take supplements at all."
So what should you do to protect bone health? Here are some suggestions, courtesy of the National Osteoporosis Foundation:
- Exercise regularly. You should engage in weight-bearing exercises as well as muscle-strengthening exercises. High-impact weight-bearing exercises such as jogging, jumping rope, dancing and aerobics help build bones. Low-impact weight-bearing exercises such as using an elliptical training machine or a stair step machine are an alternative to high-impact exercises. Muscle-strengthening exercises such as using weights or elastic exercise bands also are recommended. Non-impact exercises that focus on balance, posture and function also can be beneficial.
- Consume foods that are good for bone health. “If you eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of dairy, fish, fruits and vegetables, you should get enough of the nutrients you need every day, but if you're not getting the recommended amount from food alone, you may need to complement your diet by taking multivitamins or supplements,” the foundation stated. Recommended foods include: dairy products (low-fat and non-fat milk, yogurt and cheese); fish (canned sardines and salmon with bones, as well as fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines); fruits and vegetables (collard greens, turnip greens, kale, okra, Chinese cabbage, dandelion greens, mustard greens, broccoli, spinach, beet greens, okra, tomato products, artichokes, plantains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, raisins, papaya, oranges and orange juice, bananas, prunes, red peppers, green peppers, grapefruit, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, pineapples); and fortified foods (calcium and vitamin-D enriched juices, breakfast foods, soy milk, rice milk, cereals, snacks and breads).
- Avoid smoking.
- Limit alcohol consumption to 2-3 drinks per day.
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