Osteoporosis—porous bones—is a fragile, frightening reality for at least 15 million North Americans.
What begins as a slow and initially painless decrease in bone mass eventually leaves bones weakened and susceptible to fracture. It turns strong backs into weak; healthy strides into shuffles.
From a dental viewpoint, the disease is evident in loss of tooth strength and jaw erosion. Osteoporosis, most common in middle-aged women and the elderly, is particularly insidious in that it is rarely diagnosed until the damage is done.
Evidence suggests that adequate calcium intake early on in our lives may reduce the risk of osteoporosis as we age. Lucky that children often show a natural fancy for calcium-rich dairy products—it’s a happy addiction, as youngsters need calcium for building strong bones as they grow.
Less understood is the importance of calcium for adults. Though we use the mineral throughout life, our ability to absorb it decreases with age, suggesting a need for increased intake. How can we minimize our personal risk for osteoporosis? Calcium is a possibility.
Calcium for “grown ups”
In the North American diet, milk and milk products are still the best source of calcium. But many adults gave up milk years ago. How do you add more calcium to your diet when you can’t stomach milk?
There are scads of non-dairy sources of calcium, some quite grown-up: oysters, salmon, beans, leafy greens and even molasses. And that fancy French mineral water you’re drinking is calorie-free and calcium-rich. Voila.
In general, food is the preferred source of calcium for both young and old. But supplements are widely available in many forms (the University of California Cooperative Extension stresses non-food calcium as a supplement, not a replacement for other sources). It may be combined with vitamin D, a nutrient that enhances the retention of calcium.
Calcium, of course, won’t “fix” our bones—it’s not the whole preventive picture of osteoporosis.
A healthy lifestyle always enriches our resistance to disease. It’s not surprising that limiting caffeine, cigarettes, and alcohol seems to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. And exercise has been shown to reduce bone loss, maybe even increase bone mass.
Do strive to improve your overall health—your bones and teeth will be much obliged.