Applied Health JournalTopics of Health and Natural Healing
Here we go again... more confusing news. I can hear the rumbling frustrations of the millions of women who have been diligent with their calcium supplements in the belief that it helps prevent osteoporosis; a dangerous, sometimes crippling condition primarily associated with post-menopausal women.
In recent news, it was suggested that perhaps all those years of religiously taken your calcium supplement may not have done much good. A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 354, pp. 669-683) is the source of this recent hubbub. The study organizers followed more than 36,000 women, and they have concluded that supplementation did not actually improve the risks of hip fractures during the course of the study. But the news report is quite misleading.
The study focused on calcium and vitamin D supplementation, and concluded that although they did record an increase in bone density, they did not notice any substantial difference in actual hip fractures over the course of seven years. However, my concern with this broad generalization is the same concern I had in all the years of the “experts” telling women just the opposite; they CAN minimize their risk of osteoporosis by taking a calcium supplement. The bottom line is… it is just not that simple, but how we wish it were.
As is the case with many health issues, there is no such thing as a magic bullet. Consider any sub-standard health condition and you know that there is no “one size fits all”. Lifestyle choices, hereditary issues and environmental factors often conspire against achieving wellness. And this “calcium push-pull” is a classic example.
For many years, I have answered questions from our customers asking about calcium supplementation; should they or shouldn’t they. I usually begin my response by asking a lot of my own questions about their personal habits, general health condition, specific symptoms or concerns, and desired outcome or goals. When I receive an inquiry about calcium supplements, I begin my response by verbalizing a rhetorical question:“Why do you suppose it is that after several decades of doctors recommending that women take calcium supplementation to prevent osteoporosis, we continue to have an ever increasing rate of osteoporosis in our aging population?”
Even though a rhetorical question should not be answered, I am going to answer it:“It is because the issue is much more complicated than simply popping a pill.”
This is one of those times when I tell people to “read between the lines”. What else is going on here to affect the results the subjects received in the study? Could it be lifestyle, environmental factors or heredity? Yes, of course.
Heredity is an issue that might be answered at the beginning with questionnaires about family history that might suggest a predisposition to a specific ailment. A well-conducted study would likely have accounted for that. However, what I am unsure of are the other two factors.
Lifestyle and Environmental factors (or what I call Dimensions) are what I primarily focus on when I am responding to questions about calcium supplements. Within the Lifestyle Dimension, I would include exercise habits, consumption habits or indulgences, and mental stress conditions, to mention a few. Within the Environmental Dimension, I primarily discuss food quality and toxicity levels that may be present in your surroundings.
The reason I focus on these other Dimensions is because it hints at the complexity of the whole calcium debate. My point is that since we know that osteoporosis has been an increasing problem for many decades (despite the early declarations that calcium supplementation is the key), perhaps we should be paying attention to not only how much calcium is going in but also how much calcium is going out. In other words, what is contributing to an increasing rate of calcium depletion? Why is the mineral calcium being compelled out of the bones and vanquished from the body?
My purpose for mentioning these topics now is to encourage a wider perspective when you are questioning the meaning of the results for this latest calcium study. We have always been proponents of high-end calcium supplements, but only as a part of the greater whole. Calcium will only benefit someone when they carefully select a quality form of calcium as one piece of the very complex puzzle. Further, someone must consider several contributing factors when developing a plan to combat the risks of osteoporosis.
And when you are pondering the claimed results of this study, remember to step back and read between the lines. If you currently are on a calcium supplement, continue taking it. In subsequent segments to this series I will help you to understand why.
In Calcium: Another Perspective - Part 2, I will cover in more detail some of the topics within the Lifestyle and Environmental Dimensions that can affect calcium absorption and depletion. And there will be some additional comments on the publicized results of this most recent study.
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