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Teen Moms at Risk for Weak Bones

by Jennifer Wider, MD

(Washington DC 1/8/04): Pregnant teenagers may need to pay close attention to their calcium intake, according to new research published in the December 2003 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Young maternal age may have an effect on the body's ability to absorb calcium and solidify healthy bones, thereby increasing the risk of osteoporosis.

Despite the declining rates of teenage pregnancies, roughly 500,000 teen girls aged fifteen to nineteen give birth each year in the United States. Teen moms are at greater risk for pregnancy complications including premature labor, high blood pressure and anemia, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This recent study may put osteoporosis on an already long list of concerns.

Few studies have examined calcium absorption in adolescents during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md., designed a study to investigate the efficiency of calcium absorption and changes in urinary calcium and hormone concentrations in girls.

They studied a large group of girls aged thirteen to eighteen to determine how much of the calcium they took in food or as supplements was actually absorbed. They found that about one-third of the girls had signs of bone loss after pregnancy.

"Adolescents have a narrow window of opportunity to build bone mass and the added demands of pregnancy mean that a mother and her fetus have to compete for calcium," lead researcher Kimberly O'Brien told United Press International.

Earlier age at first pregnancy has been linked to lower bone density later in life. Accumulating data has shown that bone loss is more significant in pregnant, growing adolescent girls when compared with pregnant, adult women. In addition, breast-feeding adolescents experience more bone loss than breast-feeding adults.

Most people think of osteoporosis as an older person's disease, but circumstances earlier in life can lead to health consequences later in life. Osteoporosis remains a serious public health threat especially for women. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), roughly 10 million Americans currently have the disease and 80 percent of sufferers are women.

Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by low bone mass and bone tissue disintegration. People with osteoporosis are at increased risk for fracture, especially in the hip, wrist and spine. One in two women over the age of fifty will suffer from a fracture caused by osteoporosis during their lifetime, according to data from the NIH.

The study authors concluded that pregnant teenagers may need to increase the recommended calcium dose to counterbalance the bone loss. The recommended daily allowance for calcium intake varies by age or stage of life. Young women under the age of eighteen are supposed to consume 1,300 mg of calcium per day. Based on the study results, this may need to be increased.

Data from multiple nutritional surveys has shown that most people do not get enough calcium in their diets. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt; broccoli; spinach; tofu; and salmon with bones. Most pregnancy multi-vitamins contain the recommended dose of calcium.

For more information about pregnancy, click here.

For more information about osteoporosis, click here.

The Society for Women's Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Dr. Donnica Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past member of its Board of Directors.

Created: 1/8/2004  -  Jennifer Wider, M.D.
Reviewed: 1/9/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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