NEW YORK (CBS) ―Osteoporosis affects millions of women. One in 3 over age 50 suffer from the bone deficiency.

While there is no cure, calcium can help strengthen your bones.

But do supplements really work? Or can they do more harm than good?

Imagine how you’d feel if doctors said your bones are disintegrating and crumbling into dust.

“Feeling like you’re very old and you may relatively soon be incapable of walking, of exercising, of dancing,” said Gretchen Bender of the Upper West Side.

It happened to 60-year-old Bender. Doctors diagnosed her with osteoporosis just last year. Bender hoped she could avoid the genetic disease. Then her hip broke.

“It just spontaneously went, and that was when it was discovered that I had it,” Bender said.

Nearly 10 million women suffer from this crippling condition. Many are diagnosed only after they’ve fractured a bone. What’s worse, there’s no cure so the key is prevention. And that’s where calcium can help.

“There is data that calcium and particularly vitamin D can maintain bone density in pre-menopausal years,” said Dr. Paula Rackoff, rheumatologist at Beth Israel Medical Center.

Countless calcium supplements and fortified foods like dairy, cereal and juice claim to do just that — build stronger bones. But whether or not they really work has become the subject of some debate.

Naturopath Marcus Laux argues calcium supplements are inadequate when it comes to fighting osteoporosis.

“That is not the best way to get minerals for our health and our bones,” Laux said.

Additionally, a recent U.S. study of 36,000 women — part of the U.S. Women’s Health Initiative — concluded calcium supplements provide little benefit in protecting against osteoporosis in post menopausal women.

Bender took supplements for 15 years prior to being diagnosed.

“I thought that would help me beat it,” she said.

Despite the research doctors say calcium supplements are an important weapon in the fight against osteoporosis but stress they’re supplemental. You need to have the proper diet.

“The ideal is to get it through your food,” Dr. Rackoff said.

Rackoff says the best way to get the benefits of calcium is to eat a diet rich in the mineral.

“The food that contains the most calcium is yogurt,” Dr. Rackoff said.

Other calcium packed foods include:

* Green vegetables like broccoli

* Almonds

* And of course other dairy products like low fat milk and cheese — also rich in vitamin D which helps aid in the absorption of calcium.

Exercise is also important. It can help to increase bone density. And there are some new prescription drugs on the market proven to help.

When taken in high doses calcium supplements can have side effects like gastrointestinal problems and kidney stones. But there are a number of new plant-based calcium supplements said to be easier on the stomach.

(© MMX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)


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