Nursing mothers need extra calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, and selenium to protect their own bodies while producing nutritious breast milk. The same supplements that provide extra nutrients for pregnant women will meet a nursing mother's needs.
Then you need extra calcium. Both men and women produce the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen, although men make proportionately more testosterone and women, more estrogen. Testosterone builds bone; estrogen preserves it.
At menopause, a woman's production of estrogen drops precipitously, and her bones rapidly become less dense. As men age and their testosterone levels drop, they're also at risk of losing bone tissue, but the loss is less rapid and dramatic than a woman's.
For both men and woman, severe loss of bone density can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of bone fractures, a condition more common among women of Caucasian and Asian ancestry. Estrogen supplements can help a woman maintain bone tissue, but taking the hormone may have serious side effects, including an increased risk of breast cancer.
Twenty years ago, nutritionists thought it impossible to stop age-related loss of bone density — that your body ceased to absorb calcium when you passed your mid-20s. Today, medications such as alendronate (Fosamax) protect an aging woman's bones without estrogen's potentially harmful effects. Increasing your consumption of calcium plus vitamin D may also be helpful, regardless of your gender. But the most recent studies — by which I mean the study released in February 2006 as I am typing these words — says the value of extra calcium may not be as high as once believed. What can I say? Stay tuned for more on this one.
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