Adults with and without osteoporosis are still falling short of target calcium intakes

Among all the minerals in the human body, calcium is the most abundant, which is one reason a group of Connecticut researchers has said that elderly Americans and those with osteoporosis still need to increase their dietary calcium consumption.

A report published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (JADA) recently announced that even though Americans over the age of 80 report having the most calcium-dense of supplementation regimens, these individuals still tend to fall short of the daily dose of calcium recommended by government health officials.

While the National Institutes of Health suggests that adults over the age of 18 take around 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day, the agency emphasizes that people aged 70 years or older should consume at least 1,300 mg of the mineral in order to prevent serious bone loss.

In the new study, scientists from the University of Connecticut and Yale University analyzed data collected from nearly 9,500 U.S. adults as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2003 and 2006.

In particular, the group examined the levels of dietary calcium eaten and the amount of dietary supplements taken by adults of all ages.

Researchers found that even though the oldest participants - those over 80 years of age - reported the highest rate of calcium supplementation, this group still had lower dietary levels of the mineral than adults between the ages of 18 and 30.

Specifically, males aged 81 or older consumed 23 percent less calcium in their diets than men in the youngest age bracket, while women in the oldest category consumed 14 percent less than their youngest adult peers.

Likewise, the NHANES indicated that men and women in the oldest age bracket consumed 35 percent and 28 percent fewer calories, respectively, compared to those between the ages of 18 and 30.

What does this mean for individuals who are at risk for low bone density and osteoporosis? The study's authors concluded that while calcium supplementation decreases the risk of these skeletal conditions, it may not be enough to offset a poor diet.

In other words, the caloric discrepancy between young and elderly adults indicates that calcium supplementation does not necessarily make up for an otherwise low-calorie and mineral-deficient eating regimen.

Similar studies have shown that even with calcium supplementation, adults who consume inadequate diets are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis-related hip fractures.

For instance, a survey conducted by the Hebrew SeniorLife Institute for Aging Research found that adults who consume the least dietary protein are 50 percent more likely to suffer a broken hip than those who have the most protein-rich diets.

The disparity between the top and bottom quartiles of adult protein consumption amounted to a 46-gram difference. Most dietary protein comes from sources such as milk, cheese, yogurt, fish, nuts, eggs, beans and certain vegetables, many of which also contain calcium.

In the JADA study, researchers concluded that while supplementation remains an important tool in the fight against osteoporosis, it should not be considered an adequate substitute for a complete diet.

Previous findings appearing in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Nutrition indicated that just 12 percent of men over the age of 70 received adequate levels of calcium from supplementation alone.

Overall, 43 percent of U.S. adults reported using calcium supplements and 37 percent said they took regular doses of vitamin D, the study found.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recommends that each day, individuals over the age of 50 consume 1,200 mg of calcium, as well as up to 1,000 international units of vitamin D, through meals and supplements.

The organization adds that food labels displaying a serving's percentage of the Recommended Daily Intake of calcium are based on a 1,000-mg daily allowance of the mineral.

Since this amount is insufficient to prevent osteoporosis among aging Americans, the NOF recommends calculating one's calcium intake based on a 1,200-mg daily allowance.