Unlike milk, the effect of bone-boosting calcium supplements in young girls does not last, according to new research revealed this week by the UK National Osteoporosis Society (NOS).
Scientists at Sheffield University studied a group of 86 girls aged 11 to 12. Half of the girls took a calcium supplement added to a fruit juice and the other half took the same fruit juice without any added calcium. Their bone density was measured during this period and again 2 years after they stopped taking the supplement.
The girls taking extra calcium increased their bone mineral density by 1.2 per cent. However, two years after ending treatment, the bone gain had reversed.
The researchers suggested that the gain in bone density is probably due to a suppression of bone remodelling - the process whereby old bone tissue is broken down while new bone is built. This pattern is not observed with elemental calcium, absorbed from milk.
"This underlines the need for children and teenagers to take plenty of milk in their diet if they are to build bone strong enough to last a lifetime," said Professor Richard Eastell Chairman of the NOS Scientific Advisory Group presenting this research to the Bath Conference on Osteoporosis in Bath this week.
"Calcium supplements can be used as a substitute if they don't like milk, but it is important that they keep taking these, or the effect is lost," he said.
At the conference NOS Director, Linda Edwards: "Osteoporosis is a terrible disease that affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 12 men over the age of 50 and can hit people while they are still quite young, causing bones to break easily.
The great news is that it can be prevented, and it is never too early to start protecting bones, from day one of conception. A varied, balanced diet with plenty of calcium is important for pregnant women and children and is essential right through life."