Calcium bioavailability in relation to bone health

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A well established stable isotope technique exists for measuring calcium absorption from single foods and meals, but the long term effects of calcium on bone health cannot be assessed from acute bioavailability studies. Bone health depends primarily on the degree of mineralization, measured as bone mineral density (BMD), and phenotypic variations depend on genetic and environmental factors including calcium supply. Since almost all retained calcium is used for bone mineralization and remodeling, BMD can be used as a long-term (> six months) marker of dietary calcium bioavailability. However, BMD is a very insensitive marker of calcium bioavailability, so its use in dietary intervention studies is restricted to periods of significant bone growth or loss. Biochemical markers of bone metabolism may be used to predict the overall bioavailability of dietary calcium over a shorter time period (> four weeks), but they have a high coefficient of variation, so may not be appropriate for some dietary intervention studies. A group of European laboratories is currently developing an alternative approach using a long-lived radioisotope (41Ca) to label bone calcium and to directly measure the rate of calcium loss from urinary excretion data. The efficiency of calcium absorption is inversely related to intake; whole body balance of the mineral is dependent on rates of absorption and excretion and limited by calcium-binding substances in the gut. Dietary data and indirect measures of bone health indicate that bioavailability is important when habitual intakes are low, especially during periods of bone growth or loss. Further research is required to quantify the effects of major dietary modulators of calcium balance on bone health and to understand their relationship with genetic and physiological variables.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-18
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2002


  • Biological Availability
  • Biological Markers
  • Bone Density
  • Bone Development
  • Calcification, Physiologic
  • Calcium
  • Calcium Radioisotopes
  • Calcium, Dietary
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Osteoporosis

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