Women who take bone-preserving prescription drugs to help reduce their risk of osteoporosis are overlooking an important ingredient: calcium.
Seven out of every 10 women who use one of the three top osteoporosis medications--Fosamax, Evista and Miacalcin Nasal Spray--fail to take bone-building calcium, according to a one-year survey of 3,442 physicians completed in April 2000.
"Many women incorrectly assume that they need only the prescription medication to fight osteoporosis," said Bess Dawson-Hughes, a calcium expert at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. "To get the full benefit of therapy, women also need adequate calcium and vitamin D."
Calcium and vitamin D help preserve bone density. A recent National Institutes of Health consensus conference concluded that both are required for optimal treatment of osteoporosis. Package inserts for Fosamax, Evista and Miacalcin advise taking calcium and vitamin D, but the messages are often overlooked by consumers.
Osteoporosis is a debilitating bone disease that puts 28 million Americans, including 23 million women, at risk for fractures and deformities. While the symptoms of osteoporosis don't emerge until adulthood, the seeds of the condition are sown in childhood and adolescence as bone is formed.
The stronger the bone before loss of density begins (around age 35), the lower the risk of osteoporosis. Bone density can be maintained through a combination of weight-bearing exercises, calcium supplements, vitamin D and estrogen. Prescription medications are routinely used. But without the use of calcium and vitamin D, these efforts will not be as successful, Dawson-Hughes said.
Most adults should consume at least 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams a day of calcium, while older women and men should get 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams. For vitamin D, 200 international units a day is recommended for adults younger than 50; 400 IU for those older than 60; and 600 for those older than 70.