Calcium in Early Life May Prevent Obesity
It’s well-established that people need calcium for strong,
healthy bones. But new research from North Carolina State
University suggests that not getting enough calcium in the
earliest days of life could have a more profound, lifelong
impact on bone health and perhaps even obesity.
During an 18-day trial involving 24 newborn pigs, the researchers
documented markedly lower levels of bone density and strength
in 12 piglets fed a calcium-deficient diet compared to 12 piglets
that received more calcium. Not only that, but when researchers
looked at certain stem cells in bone marrow, they found that many
of these cells in the calcium-deficient piglets appeared to have
already been programmed to become fat cells instead of bone-
Because these programmed mesenchymal stem cells replicate
to provide all the bone-forming cells for an animal’s entire life,
very early calcium deficiency may have predisposed the piglets
to have bones that contain more fat and less mineral.
The deficiency could make those pigs more prone to osteoporosis
and obesity in later life. In a new forthcoming study, the researchers
will look at whether that’s the case: By conducting a longer feeding
trial, the scientists will be able to see if the changes persist through
sexual maturity, which occurs for pigs at around eight months of age.
The researchers are using pigs as a model for human health
because pigs and humans are similar when it comes to bone growth
and nutrition. Pigs are one of the few animals known to experience
bone breaks related to osteoporosis.
One of the most surprising findings of the 18-day feeding study was
that while the calcium-deficient pigs had substantially lower bone
strength and density, blood tests didn’t indicate any difference in
levels of the hormonal form of vitamin D, which regulates the
amount of calcium circulating in the blood of older children and
adults. Stahl said this suggests that calcium regulation in newborns
isn’t dependent on vitamin D.
The research suggests the significance of the nutritional status
of breastfeeding mothers. It also points to a need for greater
emphasis in very early life on bone health, not just during those
times when children are growing most rapidly.
“While the importance of calcium nutrition throughout childhood
and adolescence is well-recognized, our work suggests that
calcium nutrition of the neonate may be of greater importance
to lifelong bone health, due to its programming effects on
mesenchymal stem cells,” reported by the researchers at the
recent Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in Anaheim. “It also
points to a potential paradigm shift in which health professionals
might want to begin thinking about osteoporosis not so much as
a disease of the elderly, but instead as a pediatric disease with
As a result of the study, the researchers stress the point “Calcium
nutrition, or mineral nutrition as a whole, needs to be a priority
from day one. Early life nutrition is setting children up physiologically
for the rest of their lives.”
North Carolina State University (2010, May 13). Calcium in early life may prevent obesity later. ScienceDaily.
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