New research on calcium and bone development suggests that efforts to prevent osteoporosis could actually start before puberty. In the study at The Ohio State University Medical Center, researchers found that calcium supplementation significantly increased bone mass development during a critical childhood growth spurt.

The findings suggest that elevated calcium use by pre-adolescent girls is likely to help prevent fractures and osteoporosis much later in life, said Dr. Velimir Matkovic, lead author of the study.

“Because most bone mass is accumulated during this phase of growth, pre-adolescence may represent the time of highest need for calcium in a female’s lifetime,” said Matkovic. “Prevention of this disease will not only improve the population’s quality of life, but will also undoubtedly save on the skyrocketing health care costs associated with treatment.”

Calcium affects bone mass during growth by influencing the bone mineral density. The point of the clinical trial was to evaluate the effectiveness of calcium supplementation on bone mineral density during the period when most of the bone mass is accumulated. The pubertal growth spurt accounts for about 37% of the gain in the entire adult skeletal mass.

The calcium-supplemented group among the 354 girls in the trial showed a faster rate of bone mass development from the beginning of the study. The biggest difference in bone mineral density between the supplemented and nonsupplemented groups of girls occurred from between one year before and one year after the onset of menstruation. By young adulthood, significant effects remained at the metacarpals in the hands, the forearm and the hip.

The average dietary calcium intake among all study participants was 830 mg per day. The supplemented group took in an average of an additional 670 mg per day.

Ohio State University, Jan 25, 2005