Call for policy on older people’s calcium intake

Just 40 per cent of patients attending the bone fracture clinic at St James’s Hospital drink sufficient quantities of milk

 Dr Miriam Casey of St James’s Hospital: “If you want to prevent bone fractures, milk is probably the easiest way to approach this.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / THE IRISH TIMES

Dr Miriam Casey of St James’s Hospital: “If you want to prevent bone fractures, milk is probably the easiest way to approach this.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / THE IRISH TIMES

Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 16:34

Just 40 per cent of patients attending the bone fracture clinic in St James’s Hospital drink sufficient milk every day for their bone health, although the need for it is “drilled into them”, a consultant geriatrician has said.

Dr Miriam Casey has called for a public health policy on the need for elderly people to take enough calcium to prevent osteoporosis.

Speaking at the Joint Irish Nutrigenomics Organisation (JINGO) symposium in Dublin last week, Dr Casey said there was a compelling case for a diet-based approach to calcium and Vitamin D intake, as only half of patients who are recommended vitamin supplements actually take them.

“Bone is made up of collagen into which calcium is deposited, bone is very much dependent what you are eating. If you want to prevent bone fractures, milk is probably the easiest way to approach this.”

According to an American study, the cohort of elderly people with the lowest bone density also had the lowest level of milk intake. The lower the bone density, the higher the risk of fracture.

She deemed it necessary for elderly people to eat meat twice a day because the animal protein in it helps prevent osteoporosis, but only 2.3 per cent of patients actually take that amount of meat.

The Trinity, University of Ulster and Department of Agriculture Study (TUDA) is examining the effect of diet and genetics on the elderly cohort in the population, both north and south.

Broken bones in the elderly can be of serious consequence even leading to death. The main complication of osteoporosis is hip fracture and 20 per cent of those who have it will die from complications within the first year. Dr Casey cited a recent study in France, Netherlands and Sweden which illustrated how increasing the intake of dairy products is a very cost-effective way of preventing osteoporosis.

The report found that if elderly people can be persuaded to ingest one glass of milk a day, one yoghurt and 30 grams of cheddar, it can make a significant difference in terms of the risk of hip fracture.

On an annual basis, it would prevent 2,023 hip fractures in France, 455 in the Netherlands and 132 in Sweden, according to the study.

The cost of such provision ranges from a paltry €0.44 a day in the Netherlands to €0.68 in Sweden. This compares to an average cost to the health service of between €114,000 (Sweden) to €129,000 in France for the first year after a hip fracture.