DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I read that calcium doesn’t do anything for bones. I have been taking it since menopause, five years ago; I am 57 now. Have I been taking it in vain? I am going to stop now, and I am upset about all that darn calcium I took. – R.V.

Calm down. You haven’t taken calcium in vain. The message that was disseminated from the recent large study about menopausal women and calcium was distorted. The facts are these: Thirty-six thousand postmenopausal women were divided into two groups. One group took 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D daily. The other group took dummy pills containing neither calcium nor vitamin D. At the end of seven years, the women who took calcium and vitamin D had slightly denser bones, but they did not have a reduction in the number of broken hips when compared with the nonusers of vitamin D and calcium.

However, women in either group who where taking calcium at the start of the study were allowed to continue to take their customary doses of those two substances. That makes conclusions drawn about calcium and vitamin D from this study difficult to interpret. Furthermore, the dose of vitamin D wasn’t as high as most experts now believe it should be. And finally, 60 percent of the women who were taking the supplements did not take them faithfully.

The strong feeling remains that calcium and vitamin D are valuable in preserving bone strength. Since there is a radical drop in estrogen with menopause and since estrogen figures heavily in bone health, postmenopausal women should continue to take the vitamin and the mineral. In fact, all older people would be well-served by taking both in their recommended daily allowances.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 49-year-old woman and take a multivitamin every day. Should I be taking additional calcium? If so, in what form? I have read that certain types of calcium are better-absorbed than others, and I’m confused by this.

I eat a good diet, including yogurt and cottage cheese. I know exercise is important for bone health, and I do lift weights and do aerobic exercise. – L.V.

The current recommendations for daily calcium are 1,000 milligrams from ages 19 through 50 and 1,200 for ages 51 and older. For vitamin D, the recommendations are 200 IU for adults younger than 50, 400 IU for those between 50 and 70, and 600 IU for those older than 70. Many experts believe the vitamin D allowance should be higher.

Calcium carbonate is the cheapest form of calcium. For best absorption it should be taken with meals, when acid secretion is at its peak. Acid frees calcium from the carbonate and permits its absorption. If taken then, it serves as a good calcium source.

Calcium citrate is more easily absorbed. Calcium is more easily split from citrate than from carbonate. Calcium citrate, therefore, can be taken without regard to mealtime. One distinct advantage of calcium citrate is that it is less constipating than calcium carbonate. One distinct disadvantage is that it costs more.

Natural sources of calcium include orange juice fortified with the mineral. One cup of it has 350 mg of calcium. A cup of skim milk has 300 mg. Three ounces of sardines with bones contains 325 mg of calcium. Six ounces of low-fat yogurt has 300, and an ounce of most cheeses has around 200 mg. It’s possible to get all the calcium needed from foods if one eats dairy products (low-fat) regularly with some of these other foods.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I watched a hot-dog-eating contest. A 28-year-old devoured 53 and ¾ hot dogs with buns in 12 minutes. How could he consume that much in such a short time without getting violently ill? – J.M.

Most of us would get violently ill from eating that much food in such a short time. Our stomachs can’t hold such amounts of food. The winner obviously trained for the event, and his stomach is more elastic than ours.

I have no idea why anyone would want to train to win such a contest.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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