Calcium, vitamin D opportunity grows as osteoporosis prevalence rises

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Osteoporosis

Calcium, vitamin D opportunity grows as osteoporosis prevalence rises
Osteoporosis continues to be a silent killer. A major fracture can be the start of a fatal cascade for an older patient, yet the majority of elderly patients still do not receive a bone density test after an initial fracture, according to The National Bone Health Alliance.

To publicize the problem, the NBHA, a public-private partnership managed by the National Osteoporosis Foundation, will tour a “cast mountain” to various public events, one of which is the upcoming Supply Side West trade show in Las Vegas.  The mountain consists of a 12-foot tall by 12-foot pile of casts illustrating the number of broken bones that occur in the US in just one day due to osteoporosis. 

The scope of the problem is expanding, said Taylor C. Wallace, senior director of science policy and government relations for NOF.

“Osteoporosis is a disease that goes unnoticed until you end up fracturing. But our methods of determining the prevalence of osteoporosis has advanced in recent years,”​ Wallace told NutraIngredients-USA.

“Given the aging of the population, it certainly makes sense this problem is becoming more prevalent. And because it is not being addressed as well as it should be it is going to get worse before gets better,”​ said David B. Lee, executive director of the NBHA.

48 million with low bone mass

NOF recently released new data on the prevalence of osteoporosis showing that approximately 9 million adults currently have osteoporosis and another 48 million have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. With the number of those at-risk of developing osteoporosis at an all time high, making the connection between broken bones and osteoporosis has never been more important.

The organization now recommends that the treatment of any fracture after age 50 should include a bone density test.  This is still something of a rarity, even for patients in the highest risk group, Wallace said.

“It still goes unnoticed a lot of times.  Even with postmenopausal women that fracture only about 20% to 25% of them get a bone mineral density test after they fracture,”​ he said.

That’s why the organization emphasizes early detection and proper nutrition to help head osteoporosis off at the pass.  There are a number of biphosphonate drugs on the market that are prescribed to treat osteoporosis, but they are after-the-fact measures, and often patients start using these drugs only when their bones are already in poor condition.

“Once you get a hip fracture there is a huge chance that you won’t survive that year,”​ Wallace said.

Sobering facts

The statistics are sobering.  According to NOF:

  • Every year there are two million bone breaks that are not accidents – they are caused by osteoporosis.  Osteoporosis-related bone breaks cost $17 billion a year.
  • 50% of osteoporosis-related repeat fractures can be prevented with appropriate treatments. 
  • Innovative care models have shown that testing for osteoporosis in a patient with a break and coordinating that patient’s ongoing care can significantly reduce hip and other subsequent fractures. Of hip fracture patients, 25% die with a year after the fracture, 25% end up in a nursing home and 50% never regain previous function.

As for the cost to the health care system, NOF estimates that without greater awareness and prevention, osteoporosis could cause 3 million fractures per year and cost $25 billion/year by 2025.

Supplementation opportunity

Putting all that together, the opportunity for the supplement industry is clear.  Even with a recent negative association of calcium with elevated risk of heart disease in men​, Wallace said the evidence of calcium supplementation in the prevention of bone density loss is clear.  The organization preaches a three prong method for prevention:  calcium, vitamin D and weight bearing exercize.

“The NOF has a position of food first, so if you can obtain nutrients like calcium and vitamin D from the diet you should,”​ he said.

“But we certainly recognize that the majority of the population is lacking calcium and vitamin D among other nutrients.  When consumers are lacking they should consider a supplement to achieve the levels recommended by the Institutes of Medicine,”​ Wallace said.

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