Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Calcium and Osteoporosis

By Lee Green

MARCH 13, 2000:  While you're reading this, a silent killer is stalking 28 million Americans, 80 percent of them women. How brutal is it? Each year 1.5 million painful bone fractures result from encountering this killer. That figure includes 250,000 hip fractures annually, and one out of every six of these victims dies within three months. The killer's name? Osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis literally means "increased porosity of bone," and is called a "silent" killer because there are no early warning signs or symptoms and few outward indications until a fracture occurs. Contrary to popular belief, bones are not inert structures that muscles and organs hang upon. They are living tissues that continually remodel themselves using the all-important mineral, calcium.

Your skeleton stores 99 percent of the calcium in your body (about 2-2.5 pounds); the other 1 percent is used for blood clotting and proper heart, muscle, and nerve functioning. If there isn't enough available calcium for these critical functions, the needed calcium is robbed from your bones. You can't synthesize calcium for your bones, though; you have to eat it to retain a sufficient supply.

Studies show that increasing calcium intake can slow or even possibly reverse bone loss. The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 1200 milligrams/day for most of us, and 1500 milligrams/day for postmenopausal women, but many adults get only half this amount or less. By far, the easiest sources are milk, milk products and cheeses. They're loaded with calcium, but some people are lactose-intolerant, or prefer not to eat animal products.

Other calcium-rich foods include fish with bones (sardines or canned salmon); nuts; and dark green, leafy vegetables such as bok choy, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, kelp, lamb's quarters, mustard greens, and turnip greens. I know it's sometimes hard to figure out what to do with leafy green vegetables, so I'm giving you my recipe for bok choy (see below). You can pretty much do the same thing with any greens, though.

Even if you get enough calcium in your diet, a number of risk factors can increase your risk of osteoporosis, such as the usual fun things like smoking, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, eating too much animal protein, leading a sedentary lifestyle, using steroids and some other medications, or not getting enough vitamins and minerals.

If your diet falls short of the RDA for calcium, you may want to consider calcium supplements. A number of different types are on the market, varying in absorbability and cost. Two to avoid are bone meal and dolomite, which may contain heavy metals and even radioactive elements. Probably the most cost efficient is calcium carbonate, as found in Tums™ and other antacids. Each tablet contains 200 mg of calcium; five per day would supply the RDA.

Two other vital nutrients needed for healthy bones are vitamin D and phosphorus. You need vitamin D to help absorb calcium and luckily, your body can manufacture vitamin D. All it needs is a brief (10-20 minutes) exposure to sunlight each day. Phosphorus strengthens bones, but if dietary calcium is inadequate and dietary phosphorus is excessive (greater than 2 grams/day), bone loss can occur. Major sources of phosphorus include meats and some soft drinks, particularly colas that contain phosphoric acid.

You've probably heard that exercise helps prevent osteoporosis, but do you know why? When stress is applied to bone, an electrical field is generated that prompts bone growth, a phenomenon known as "Wolff's Law." So get out there and do some load-bearing exercise, such as walking or weightlifting.

If you're male, all this advice also applies to you. Don't forget you're in that 20 percent portion of the 28 million people mentioned in the first paragraph.

Four Color Stir-Fried Bok Choy

This quick and tasty calcium blast, handed down from a week-old family recipe, features a mixture of tastes and textures that everyone will enjoy. Bok choy's calcium content is 160 mg/cup; tofu has 37 milligrams/ounce; The sesame seeds add another 37 milligrams/ounce.

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • one clove garlic, minced
  • one onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 carrots, cut into 1/4" diagonal slices
  • one head bok choy, stems cut into 1/2" slices, leaves into 2" pieces
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces firm tofu, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
Prepare cooking sauce and vegetables; set aside. Heat wok or wide frying pan over high heat. When hot, add oil. Add ginger, garlic; stir once. Add onion and carrots. Stir-fry 1 minute. Add bok choy. Stir-fry 1 minute. Add water, salt, and tofu. Cover. Cook until vegetables are tender-crisp (about 2-3 minutes). Sprinkle with black sesame seeds. Pour in cooking sauce and cook, gently stirring, until sauce boils and thickens (about 30 seconds).

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