By Kathy Lund
It’s been said that graceful aging is about being flexible. One’s ability to respond mentally and physically to life’s obstacles is certainly an asset. However when it comes to bone health, traditional advice on calcium supplementation favors rigidity over agility. As Ian R Ried wrote in his article, A Case for Ending Calcium, the age-old advice to prescribe calcium alone fails to address the importance of being lithe for long-term bone health.
Calcium has traditionally been the “go to” ingredient for bone health, but lately it has fallen out of favor due to its limited functionality. Traditional calcium supplements don’t support bone strength and flexibility adequately. From my experience, for both bone mineral density and flexibility support, collagen formulations are superior to plain calcium.
As we age, bone density decreases after the age of 40. Bones don’t become noticeably weaker, in fact they are often thought of as hard and lifeless. However bones are actually living, growing tissue. Bone itself undergoes continuous remodeling, with constant rejuvenation of new bones and resorption of old bones. For most women, bone loss increases quickly after menopause, when estrogen levels drop sharply. In fact, in the five to seven years after menopause, women can lose up to 20 percent or more of their bone. Osteoporosis is a major public health threat. Approximately 25% of postmenopausal Caucasian women in the US will develop osteoporosis.
Nutritional supplementation for people with osteoporosis has long focused on calcium, vitamin D and recently vitamin K. However, all these approaches are addressing the calcium deficiency only. Calcium builds bone density but collagen builds the framework for calcium to attach to.
It is more like the skyscraper. It builds hardness, which gives bone its “vertical strength.” But calcium is a lot like chalk, becoming brittle and crumbly from side-to-side pressure over the years. Collagen is the steel frame, while calcium is the cement. Collagen provides the side-to-side flexibility and gives bones the flexibility to endure impact. Without it, even the strongest bones can crack, shatter or break, and running, jumping and other activities become painful. Although the body produces collagen naturally, its production diminishes as we age.
Bones are made up of three major components:
- Collagen, the protein that gives bones a framework for strength and flexibility
- Calcium-phosphate mineral complexes, that fill in the gaps between the collagen frame work, making bones hard and strong
- Living bone cells that remove and replace weakened sections of bone
Collagen works to support healthy function in all components of the living bone tissue, which is why it trumps calcium supplements. Prescription drugs, while they are supposed to enhance bone strength and flexibility, can actually cause more brittleness. Prescription drugs for osteoporosis slow down the loss of bone mass by suppressing bone metabolism. The dead bone mass and old collagen “saved” by the drugs take up all the space that would have been filled up by new bone mass and new collagen. That’s why there are so many reports that osteoporosis drugs that actually make bones more brittle and people who were treated with these drugs tend to suffer more bone fractures.
While calcium supplementation has been the most popular non-drug solution in the past, research is now showing that calcium alone is not enough. New research points to collagen formulations as means to fill in the gaps that calcium leaves behind, which provides not only bone mineral strength but also flexibility. For aging bodies this is the key to being active into later years.
Editor’s Note: This opinion column is in reference to an article posted earlier A Case for Ending Calcium Supplements. In the article, Ian R Reid Asher reviews the potential dangers calcium supplements may pose on heart and kidney health and why prescribing calcium is based on outdated advice. Today’s Practitioner received an opinion column from Kathy Lund, vice president marketing and business development for AIDP and makers of KoACT (collagen and calcium bone health formulation). AIDP is functional ingredients company that offers solutions for healthy aging and wellnesss. www.aidp.com