Clinician's CornerQ. Are calcium supplements really all that helpful in preventing osteoporosis? If not, what is helpful for preventing osteoporosis.

There is a lot more to keeping bones healthy than just taking calcium supplements. To understand why, here is some information about how calcium is used in the body.

Normal bone is constantly being remodeled. There is a revolving mechanism between the calcium held in the bones and the serum calcium found in the blood. Calcium can shift out of the bone and into the blood as well as out of the blood and into the bone.

Under healthy conditions, bone calcium normally remains fairly consistent. Calcium is deposited on the bone and reabsorbed back into the blood at similar rates. However, when blood serum calcium levels are constantly low, the body reabsorbs calcium into the blood faster than it can be deposited back into the bone. This results in a loss of bone mass.

Another important factor to consider is that the calcium in the blood is found in two forms, free calcium and bound calcium. If there is an excess of free calcium, then calcium will not be absorbed back into the bones. Too much free calcium can cause kidney stones, bone spurs, gallstones and even arterial plaque.

A high free calcium index indicates a reduction in the level of organic anions. This is associated with acid conditions and a tendency towards anaerobic metabolism. When the free calcium is high, the urine will actually be overly acid. With a high free calcium index, calcium will show normal in the blood. However, there will be an increased tendency towards calculus formation on teeth, calcifications within the body like stones and bone spurs, bone loss and chronic disease.

By increasing magnesium in the diet, the unbound calcium can actually be used. Magnesium raises serum phosphorus, which reduces the level of calcium that can be used.

Excess sugar consumption depresses phosphorus levels and causes a corresponding rise in free calcium. This happens because of how sugar affects the glands. Sugar raises levels of the parathyroid hormone, which causes urinary excretion of phosphorus and magnesium, which is needed to bind calcium into bone. So just eating a lot of sugar contributes to osteoporosis and eliminating sugar can help increase bone density.

Our internal biochemistry will not tolerate a deficiency even for short periods. This is why a deficiency of calcium or a difficulty of calcium absorption, even for short periods of time, can result in a significant percentage of bone loss.

Unfortunately, bone calcium is very alkaline and is difficult for the body to properly acidify and transport for other biochemical functions. Calcium reabsorbed from the bone must circulate in the blood for long periods of time in an attempt to become acidic enough for use. This explains why those who are calcium deficient often show high levels of calcium in their blood.

Hormone therapy with estrogen and progesterone might be able to delay the onset of osteoporosis. Using bioidentical estrogen can help alleviate osteoporosis. In the February, 1989 issue of Let’s Live magazine, Dr. David Steenblock wrote, “A lack of estrogen in post-menopausal women prevents the absorption and utilization of calcium and is the single most important factor in the development of osteoporosis in older women.”

We can take this one step further and apply it to males. As men age, their testosterone levels can decrease. Testosterone is converted to estrogen in the male and it serves the same function as in women. A lowering of testosterone contributes to osteoporosis in men, as well.

Many factors influence calcium absorption. Among them are exercise, overall nutrition and the pH balance of the gastrointestinal tract. Effective calcium absorption begins in the stomach. If the stomach produces too little stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) or a person is neutralizing their acid with antacids, calcium remains insoluble and cannot be ionized and assimilated. The proper level of hydrochloric acid in the stomach is so important that its lack in the digestive process can account for as much as 80 percent loss of available calcium absorption.

Deficiencies of a number of different nutrients over a long period of time may accelerate bone loss. This concept was illustrated in a 1981 clinical study that showed adding certain micronutrients to a calcium supplement reduced bone loss by a significantly greater degree than calcium alone. This is why you should never fragment nutrition by taking just one or a few isolated nutrients in the total absence of others.