Calcium for the over-50s prevents broken bones

Australian scientists say people over the age of 50 should take supplements of calcium in order to reduce the risk of bone damage should they fall.

The scientists from the University of Western Sydney suggest that daily calcium supplements would prevent one in four fractures in this age group.

The scientists reached their conclusion after a three and a half year study examining the combined results of 17 studies involving more than 50,000 people over 50 who were given calcium supplements.

They discovered that supplements reduced the risk of fractures by 12% but when the proper dose of 1,200mg was taken every day the risk was reduced by 24%.

A connection was also established between the reduced risk and an appropriate dosage of vitamin D.

Subjects ingesting over 800 International Units each day experienced a 16 percent risk reduction and, in comparison, people taking less vitamin D enjoyed only a 13 percent reduction.

Many medical experts maintain that vitamin D helps the stomach absorb calcium, but the study showed that calcium worked just as well with or without it.

Lead author Benjamin Tang says the advice may be optional for those who are fit, healthy and have a very good diet at 50, but those on a poorer diet who are older would gain more benefit.

Dr. Tang says they found that many people are not taking strong enough doses of calcium, or not taking them regularly enough, to reap the full benefits and most of the tablets taken are low dosage.

In older people and particularly in women osteoporosis and low bone density become major health problems, and fractures are a major cause of injury affecting as many as 10 million Americans.

Women suffer a faster loss of bone density after the menopause and osteoporosis, the loss of bone density is thought to cost health services millions each year.

Women have a one in six chance of fracturing a bone after the age of 50 and men a one in 20 chance.

Experts believe people should be able to get all the necessary calcium from a balanced diet and nowadays many cereals breads and margarines are fortified with calcium.

The researchers recommended a minimum daily dose of 1,200 mg in the case of calcium-only supplementation.

The benefit appeared to be more apparent in elderly people over 70 with a low body weight living in institutions.

Dr. Tang says the side effects of taking the correct dose of calcium were minimal with only a small number of people suffering mild stomach upsets.

Dr. Tang says most of the research he surveyed was based on women, who have a far higher chance of developing osteoporosis, and the advice would differ for men.

Experts suggest people with osteoporosis may benefit from a daily intake of 1,000 -1,200mg of calcium but also caution against exceeding the recommended limits of calcium as too much calcium can produce unpleasant side effects such as kidney stones.

They also say calcium supplements and vitamin D should be looked upon only as supplements and not as a replacement for a healthy diet rich in veggies, fruit, and grain products.

The study is published in the Lancet medical journal and was sponsored by the Australian Government.

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