According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 54 million Americans are at risk of developing the bone-thinning disease and about half of all women older than 50 will have a broken bone caused by osteoporosis during their lifetime.
It’s no wonder we’ve all been told to drink milk and take a calcium supplement.
But did you know that the preponderance of evidence actually argues AGAINST this advice? Here’s some interesting observations about calcium intake and bone disease:
- The U.S. has some of the highest calcium intake levels in the world, and it seems like everyone is religious about taking their calcium supplements.
The highest rates of hip fractures are where? The U.S.
- African Bantu women consume an average of only 350 mg of calcium per day, about a third of the amount recommended in the U.S.
They almost never develop osteoporosis or even lose a tooth.
- The Inuit consume an average of 2000 mg of calcium per day, primarily from fish bones, as well as very high levels of protein, about 250-400 grams/day.
They have the world’s highest rate of osteoporosis.
So what gives?
Use it or lose it.
You can’t force your bones to absorb calcium. Calcium uptake is an active process so something has to trigger bone cells. That stimulus is weight-bearing activity and exercise. One of the reasons osteoporosis is such a problem in the U.S. is that we don’t move and we don’t give our bones any reason to stay strong.
Diet, diet, diet.
Our bodies can only function in a very narrow pH range. pH is a measure of acid levels in our blood and is an indicator of how many negative ions are floating around in our blood stream. When negative ions build up, pH levels fall and our bodies respond quickly to restore balance. Calcium has 2 positive ions for every molecule so getting calcium into the blood is a very efficient way to restore pH levels. So when pH falls, the body actually sends calcium OUT OF OUR BONES to correct the imbalance.
What foods cause our pH to fall? Acid forming foods including those high in protein like meat, eggs, and fish, as well as many processed food items. Calcium supplementation can’t make up for the effects of that diet on calcium balance.
So what should you do if you want to avoid osteoporosis?
Eat a low acid-producing diet. Most whole grains, vegetables and fruits–even those that are naturally acidic like oranges and tomatoes–generally yield an alkaline effect inside our bodies, so pH levels don’t fall and calcium stays put inside our bones.
A whole food, plant based diet is best. Vegetarians and vegans have much lower rates of osteoporosis than the general population. But you don’t have to be a vegetarian or a vegan. Just eat a diet more plentiful in fruits and vegetables than meat, eggs or fish. And avoid processed foods as much as possible.
Move your body.
Don’t rely on calcium supplements. They will do very little for you if you eat a poor diet or avoid activity. And if you eat right and exercise, you won’t need them.