D.Ear dr Blonz: I’ve been drinking coffee for most of my adult life, but now I’ve read that coffee absorbs calcium – that it can even pull calcium out of your bones and lead to osteoporosis. Is that true? And if so, does adding milk or half and half to coffee provide calcium to counteract the effect and prevent it from absorbing calcium elsewhere? I have osteopenia. – ST, Tulsa
Dear ST: Osteopenia is a “warning” condition in which bone mass is less than normal but not as severe as osteoporosis. Our bones and skeletal system provide a cumulative record of our general and mineral diet and lifestyle. This structure can also be influenced by genetic predispositions and drugs that influence the formation and maintenance of bones.
Coffee is not a significant risk factor for osteoporosis in people who eat well. Caffeine doesn’t actually “absorb” or “pull” calcium from the digestive tract or from the bones. However, excessive ingestion may have a diuretic (urine-producing) property that can result in a small loss of certain nutrients, including calcium and magnesium. Coffee is also an acidic drink and can irritate a sensitive stomach; When you eat with your coffee, this effect tends to be absorbed.
Higher caffeine intake combined with insufficient calcium can be a risky combination. An overall good diet – including an adequate intake of calcium from food – counteracts this negative. The goal is a plant-based whole food diet with sufficient intake of essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium. This has more of an impact than adding milk or cream to the coffee cup. (A tablespoon or half of milk contains only about 15-20 milligrams of calcium.)