The study was recently published in eLife.
An key health worry as we age is osteoporosis, a condition where bones lose bone density and become porous and weaker. Fractures are more likely as a result of the illness, particularly to the wrists, hips, and spinal vertebrae. Osteoporosis often affects older women and is brought on by hormonal changes, calcium deficiency, or vitamin D deficiency.
Wenzhou Medical University researchers in China looked for randomised controlled trials that contrasted calcium or calcium plus vitamin D with a placebo or no treatment in patients under the age of 35. The researchers specifically looked at bone mineral density or bone mineral content. They analysed changes in bone mineral density and content in the lumbar spine, femoral neck, whole hip, and entire body involving more than 7,300 people in 43 research. Although there is a difference between males and females, changes in bone mass happen naturally over life, with peak bone mass happening in our 20s.
According to the results of the recent study, calcium supplements in adults under the age of 35 greatly increased the levels of bone mineral density in the femoral neck and entire body while only marginally raising levels in the lumbar spine and femoral neck. Compared to those under 20, this improvement was particularly noticeable in those between the ages of 20 and 35 (the peri-peak bone mass age, where the bone mass plateaus) (the pre-peak bone mass age).
Professor Joan Marie Lappe, Ph.D., RN, associate dean at the College of Nursing Research at the Osteoporosis Research Center at Creighton University in Omaha, NE, not involved in the study, explained the findings
“Younger persons need adequate calcium intake to build and maintain strong bones. In the analysis, both calcium supplement and dietary calcium studies were included. Dietary calcium is the best source, but supplements should be taken as needed to achieve the recommended intake level.”
The measurements of the femoral neck and lumbar spine’s bone mineral density were found to be improved only after calcium supplementation, despite the fact that the researchers discovered that both dietary calcium sources and calcium supplementation had positive effects on overall bone mineral density. According to prior studies and human calcium physiology, Prof. Lappe stated, the body draws calcium from the bones to use for other essential processes when there is insufficient calcium intake. Additionally, studies have shown that the strongest indicator of osteoporotic fractures in older persons is peak bone mass, which is attained between the ages of 25 and 30. Thus, achieving the highest peak mass prevents osteoporosis, RN and Ph.D. Prof. Lappe.
Lily Chapman, BSc., MSc., performance coach and sport and exercise nutritionist, not involved in the research, highlighted to MNT that “studies have shown consistently that either increasing dietary calcium intake or including calcium supplementation can help to increase peak bone mass/content/density and reduce bone loss.”
Chapman emphasised that older participants tended to be found in the majority of studies conducted to date. Microstructural changes and rapid bone density loss are both brought on by ageing. The fact that this study is the first meta-analysis to concentrate on the age at which bone mass peaks is significant.
According to Chapman, calcium supplements had a noticeable positive impact on both bone mineral density and bone mineral content, particularly near the femoral neck. This is a positive finding since people who reach their optimum bone mass earlier in life are probably better able to fend off problems like osteoporosis and related fractures later in life.
Prof. Lappe noted that “there is no specific age recommended to start supplements. Guidelines [in the United States] recommend calcium intake by age group, 1000 milligrams per day for those ages 19 to 50 years and 1200 mg per day for those over 50. Supplements should be used at any age if adequate calcium is not obtained from food.”
In their publication, the researchers identified a number of restrictions. Due to the limits of the available data, the researchers, for example, could not properly compare the differences between males and females (some studies provided merged data of males and females without males alone). They also pointed out that few of the research they examined for the study had a 20- to 35-year-old age range as their primary focus. This was mentioned in Chapman’s review. Only three studies were eligible for inclusion in the 20–35 age range, which means a significant portion of participants were young adults, according to Chapman.
“With this, it is therefore warranted for more studies to investigate the age group of 20–35 to help consolidate these findings, as this is a period of life where bone mineral density peaks. But overall, a promising area of research that poses several strengths, mainly due to it being one of the first meta-analyses of its kind!”
The researchers emphasise that although though there weren’t many trials in the 20 to 35 age range, the evidence was strong and the outcomes were consistent, particularly in the femoral neck. People over 35 may ask if it’s too late to start taking calcium supplements in light of this findings.
In answer to this important question, Prof. Lappe noted, “it is never too late.”