Calcium May Do Little to Stop Bone Loss in Elderly
April 5, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Some habits touted as bone-strengtheners, like
exercising and getting plenty of calcium, appear to do little to stop bone loss
once people reach old age, a new study shows.
But doctors aren't advising that older people stop taking in calcium or give
up on exercise. And the study found that even the very elderly can help their
bones by doing things like quitting smoking and, if they're women, taking
The research, which studied bone density in 800 people ranging from 67 to 90
years old, was published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral
"We looked and were surprised to find bone loss was not refuted by such
things as excessive intake of vitamin D and calcium," says Marian T.
Hannan, PhD, senior research associate at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for
the Aged in Boston. "From the data we have here, calcium intake had no
relationship to bone loss and neither did vitamin D levels."
Hannan's study also found that exercise did little to preserve bones, and
that elderly people who lost weight also lost bone density. Conversely,
"women who gained weight also gained bone mineral density," she says.
"It may be that for older folks, slight weight gain is beneficial."
Hannan did say "slight." And she didn't say dump calcium entirely.
"My personal opinion is that certainly in your adolescent and adult years,
calcium is very important. It probably diminishes as we get older and other
risk factors increase." Other risk factors identified by the study included
smoking and, for women, alcohol consumption and failure to take estrogen.
Hannan drew the study participants from a group of people assembled more
than 50 years ago in Framingham, Mass., to study risk factors associated with
heart disease over time. Most members of the group have died, but the survivors
continue to provide a wealth of information on different aspects of aging.
One near-certainty with advancing age in this group was declining bone
density. Almost everyone in the study lost some bone, with women losing it at
about twice the rate of men, Hannan says. What she found encouraging in the
midst of this depressing news was evidence that even in very old people --
those up to 90 years of age -- there seem to be ways to cut the loss: by
stopping smoking, for example, or, for women, starting on estrogen.
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