Is osteoporosis caused by low calcium intake?

March 04, 2012 3 min read

Is osteoporosis caused by low calcium intake?

Is osteoporosis caused by low calcium intake?

We hear a lot about calcium and our bones. In a recent newsletter I wrote an article, Calcium , the Double Edged Sword. Yes, we need calcium for our bones, but it is not the whole story. When I attend osteoporosis conferences nutrition is barely mentioned. When it is covered, the only nutrients typically mentioned are calcium (Tum’s no less) and vitamin D. Occasionally, vitamin K is mentioned, but by and large, the emphasis is on research involving medications or new discoveries regarding bone cells. The following is an excerpt from anthropologist Susan Brown, Ph.D.. She suggests that the notion that osteoporosis is caused by low calcium intake is a myth.

“Increasing calcium is certainly one way to strengthen bone — but we have to look at it in context. It’s been the opinion of Western researchers for decades that low calcium intake leads to osteoporosis. Because bone is composed largely of calcium, it might appear logical to link calcium intake directly with bone health. But in reality calcium depends on other nutrients to do its work, and so just increasing calcium without other bone-building nutrients may cause more harm than good. What’s interesting is a glance at the cross-cultural data, which shows us that most areas of the world have lower calcium intake than we do, yet have lower rates of osteoporosis. In fact, it has been documented that the countries with the highest calcium intake have the highest hip fracture incidence. So more calcium doesn’t automatically equal stronger bone.

All researchers agree that adequate calcium is absolutely essential for development and maintenance of bone health. The question so often asked is, how much calcium is adequate? The data I’ve looked at indicate that there is no one standard ideal calcium intake, but that it varies based on a number of other coexisting factors. These factors include digestive health; intake of other bone-building nutrients; consumption of potentially calcium-depleting substances like excess protein, salt, fat, and sugar; the use of some drugs, alcohol and tobacco; the level of physical activity; exposure to sunlight; environmental toxins and stress; ovary and uterus removal; and many other factors that limit absorption and endocrine gland functioning.”

Dr. Lani’s comments

I couldn’t agree more with her analysis. Bone is very complex, so to dumb it down to one nutrient is simply wrong. What is abundantly clear is that each case of osteoporosis is different than the next. Many of my patients who have osteoporosis do in fact need calcium supplements. Some have dairy allergies and some have digestive problems that lead to malabsorption of calcium. Calcium needs to be balanced with other bone healthy nutrients including, magnesium, vitamins, D, K and A (too much vitamin A or the wrong form can result in bone loss too) and more. Too much or too little protein is not good for bone either.

I encourage anyone who has been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia (low bone mass) to learn about bone. This is so important because every health practitioner that you see for the rest of your life will have an opinion and recommendation regarding medications supplements and so on.

As Dr. Brown points out in other articles, osteoporosis is not seen in some cultures until they take on a more western style of living including junk food and sedentary life style.


FIGS – good for your heart and your bones

Figs contain approximately 80 milligrams of calcium (79 milligrams in an 8 oz-wt serving), a mineral that has many functions including promoting bone density. Additionally, figs' potassium may also counteract the increased urinary calcium loss caused by the high-salt diets typical of most Americans, thus helping to further prevent bones from thinning out at a fast rate.

Cardiovascular Effects

In animal studies, fig leaves have been shown to lower levels of triglycerides (a form in which fats circulate in the bloodstream), while in in vitro studies, fig leaves inhibited the growth of certain types of cancer cells. Researchers have not yet determined exactly which substances in fig leaves are responsible for these remarkable healing effects.

  • California dried figs are an excellent source of dietary fiber. Just 3 – 5 dried or fresh provide 5 grams of dietary fiber.
  • The calcium content of dried figs is over 100% greater than other dried fruits. 5 figs contain 80 – 125 mg of calcium.
  • Super Potassium - on an equal weight basis, dried figs have nearly 80 percent more potassium than bananas. potassium may also counteract the increased urinary calcium loss caused by the high-salt diets typical of most Americans, thus helping to further prevent bones from thinning out at a fast rate.

More goodness!

Dried figs outrank most fruits when comparing calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese and other important nutritional components!

USDA USDA Nutrient Database

Source: Whole Foods