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Calcium May Do Little to Stop Bone Loss in Elderly

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Sound advice, suggests Kenneth Saag, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. But no one should ignore the long-accepted cornerstones of bone preservation, he says.

"What's clear is there are a variety of factors, some more important than others. We try to modify as many 'modifiable' risk factors as possible. And we would clearly recommend calcium and sufficient exercise to increase bone [density]."

In fact, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends increasing calcium intake past age 50 to 1,200 milligrams a day, as well as doing regular weight-bearing exercise.

Nancy Lane, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco says calcium intake is vitally important in the elderly. "As we age, we lose the ability to absorb calcium ... so calcium imbalance is a significant part of bone loss." Bottom line, she says: Elderly people need even more calcium than younger people.

As for exercise, Lane says it's important for the elderly -- especially from a social standpoint, since they often do it in groups -- but also indirectly for the skeletal system. "It improves muscular strength and neuromuscular balance, ... so you don't fall as often." But, she adds, it does little to strengthen bones.

Vital Information:

  • In a group of elderly patients, calcium and vitamin D intake were found to have no relationship with bone loss.
  • Researchers suspect that while calcium is important throughout most of life, its importance diminishes with age.
  • The National Osteoporosis Foundation still recommends that everyone over age 50 consume 1,200 milligrams per day of calcium and perform regular, weight-bearing exercise.

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