What comes to mind when someone mentions the need to prevent osteoporosis? I’ll bet the first thing you think about is calcium. And why is that? I know; it’s because you see commercials and advertisements everywhere about the osteoporosis-preventing effects of calcium. It’s what all your girlfriends talk about.
The problem is that all those commercials, advertisements, and girlfriends are only partially correct. They represent only one prong of a wishbone.
One of the things I find so troubling about menopause is that so much of the information that’s considered to be “common knowledge” is really “common misconception.” And the relationship between osteoporosis and calcium is one of the most common of the misconceptions in menopause.
Sometimes, a wishbone doesn’t have a lucky prong and an unlucky prong. Sometimes, it’s only good when you don’t make a contest out of it at all, but leave the wishbone intact.
So, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start (like that song in The Sound of Music).
Menopause is the result of loss of the hormone estrogen. Osteoporosis begins at menopause. And it’s the loss of estrogen that causes osteoporosis.
So how is it that calcium is the solution? Or is it?
So much of the time misconceptions consist of information that is only partially correct. And such is the case when it comes to osteoporosis, estrogen, and calcium. It’s as if there’s a wishbone and you only get to keep half of it. But in the case of the relationship between estrogen and calcium, you’re much better off keeping the whole wishbone rather than choosing between estrogen and calcium for preventing osteoporosis. Half the wishbone just won’t do because no matter which half you get, neither one alone is a winner.
The key to understanding how to prevent osteoporosis is to understand exactly what osteoporosis is.
Osteoporosis means bone loss. In other words, the word osteoporosis means that you have less bone. It means that your bones are less dense. It’s all about the QUANTITY of bone.
And the substance that is responsible for your quantity of bone is estrogen.
So if estrogen loss is what causes bone loss, you have to replace estrogen in order to prevent bone loss.
Makes sense, doesn’t it.
Well, then where does calcium come in?
Osteoporosis is also caused by poor bone strength. No matter how much bone you have, it can be weak bone or strong bone. You can even have dense bone that is weak. Having a lot of a weak thing doesn’t make up for its weakness. It’s all about the QUALITY of bone.
And the substance that is responsible for your quality of bone is calcium.
So if calcium keeps your bones strong, you have to take calcium to keep your bones strong.
If you treat this situation like a wishbone and take only one of the two, you’ll deny your bone one of the two essential substances it needs to avoid osteoporosis.
If you only take calcium, you’ll have strong bone … but not enough of it. You’ll develop osteoporosis, and fall and break your hip.
If you only take estrogen, you’ll have dense bone … but it will be too weak to withstand the trauma of a fall. You’ll fall and break your hip.
Wouldn’t it be awful to diligently take calcium for years, thinking that you’re preventing osteoporosis, only to end up with osteoporosis because you were only protecting one aspect of your bone health and not the other?
There are many things that require both quality and quantity to remain healthy. And your bone is one of them.
Now, what about women who can’t take estrogen or don’t want to take estrogen? Well, there are non-hormonal medications that serve the same purpose as estrogen with regard to preventing osteoporosis. The key is to make sure you protect both the quality and quantity of your bone. If you don’t, you’ll only have taken half the wishbone and you’ll wish you had taken the whole thing.
So, which bone-sparing substance wins the wishbone contest? The answer is that it’s not a contest. You want to keep the whole wishbone. If you don’t, you’ll wish you had. One prong is estrogen (or a substance that acts on your bone like estrogen). The other prong is calcium. You need them both.
No matter which wishbone prong you get, you’ll lose if you only take one or the other.