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Dietary calcium is better than supplements at protecting bone health

Women who get most of their daily calcium from food have healthier bones than women whose calcium comes mainly from supplemental tablets, say researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Surprisingly, this is true even though the supplement takers have higher average calcium intake.

Adequate calcium is important to prevent osteoporosis, which affects an estimated 8 million American women and 2 million American men. Another 34 million Americans have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. Calcium consumption can help maintain bone density by preventing the body from stealing the calcium it needs from the bones.

The researchers' conclusions about calcium intake, published in the May issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, came from a study of 183 postmenopausal women. The researchers asked the women to meticulously detail their diet and their calcium supplement intake for a week. "We assumed that this sample represented each woman's typical diet," says senior author Reina Armamento-Villareal, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Bone and Mineral Diseases and a bone specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "In addition to analyzing the volunteers' daily calcium intake, we tested bone mineral density and urinary concentrations of estrogen metabolites."

The researchers found that the women could be divided into three groups: one group, called the "supplement group," got at least 70 percent of their daily calcium from tablets or pills; another, the "diet group," got at least 70 percent of their calcium from dairy products and other foods; and a third, the "diet plus supplement group," consisted of those whose calcium-source percentages fell somewhere in between these ranges.

The "diet group" took in the least calcium, an average of 830 milligrams per day. Yet this group had higher bone density in their spines and hipbones than women in the "supplement
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Contact: Gwen Ericson
ericsong@wustl.edu
314-286-0141
Washington University School of Medicine
19-Jun-2007


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