One of the main health concerns for women over 50 is osteoporosis. After menopause, low levels of estrogen alter how women’s bodies use calcium and leave their bones susceptible to fracturing easily. The National Osteoporosis Foundation states that at least half of women over 50 will suffer a bone fracture due to the condition.
Prevention of this disease starts in childhood and adolescence, during which time the majority of your bone mass accrues. This accrual phase is mostly complete by your mid-twenties, at which point it’s primarily a maintenance game. That said, bones can continue to be strengthened by consuming adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium as well as performing weight-bearing exercises.
Vitamin D helps the intestines absorb calcium, which is used to build and maintain bone mass and to facilitate muscle contraction. Too little of either vitamin D or calcium – or both – can leave one susceptible to osteoporosis.
The results of a survey of 227,528 participants between 2001 and 2008 sought to identify what, if any, demographic factors were associated with low intake of vitamin D and calcium. The researchers collected information about the participants’ eating patterns and any supplements they took. They also collected information on age, gender, weight, race and household income.
Factors corresponding to low intake levels of vitamin D and calcium included:
- Minority status
- Low household income
See more on the study at www.sciencedaily.com.
There are several ways in which these factors may overlap. For example, minorities are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and our current food system is structured so that high-calorie, low-nutrient foods are more affordable per calorie (unit of energy) than healthier foods. Add to this the fact that cooking education is not a significant component of our education system, and you have a recipe for nutrient insufficiency and the health problems that stem from it.
But osteoporosis risk isn’t the only concern associated with vitamin D insufficiency. Vitamin D plays a role in several of the body’s functions, including the inflammatory response and mood regulation. Low levels of calcium and vitamin D deficiency may be connected with chronic pain conditions aside from osteoporosis as well as mental health issues due to these other roles.
Intake of these nutrients may, according to the survey, be lower among low-income individuals and families, particularly those of color and who are overweight. Medical professionals should be aware of this information and help their patients with nutrition and supplementation advice where it can reasonably be suspected that patients aren’t receiving the nutrition they need.
For information on the relation between vitamin D, chronic pain and fatigue, see www.practicalpainmanagement.com.