Osteoporosis is almost universal in very old age, and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the elderly of both sexes. Bone is lost at a rate of 0·2–0·5 %/year in both men and women after the age of 40–45 years. The causes of age-related changes in bone mass are multifactorial and include genetic predisposition, nutritional factors, endocrine changes, habitual exercise levels and body weight. Bone loss is accelerated to 2–5 % year immediately before and for up to 10 years post-menopause (Heaney, 1986). In women hormone-replacement therapy is effective in reducing the rate of bone loss caused by this peri-menopausal decrease in hormone levels (Smith & Studd, 1993); however, in men and older women (>10 years post-menopause) nutrition plays a key role in the rate of bone loss. One factor contributing to bone loss in the elderly may be a subclinical Zn and/or Cu deficiency, due to a reduced dietary intake of micronutrients and reduced absorption (Thomson & Keelan, 1986). Zn and Cu are essential cofactors for enzymes involved in the synthesis of various bone matrix constituents. Paradoxically, Ca supplementation may accentuate the problem of reduced Zn and Cu levels by impairing the absorption of simultaneously-ingested Zn and the retention of Cu (Snedeker et al. 1982; Grekas et al. 1988). The present paper will review the current literature on the potential benefits of Cu and Zn supplementation in reducing bone loss, and present new information on the effect of Ca supplementation on Zn and Cu status in post-menopausal women with osteoporosis.
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