Q. I am 49 and had a bone density scan done since osteoporosis runs on my mother’s side of the family. The results showed that I have borderline osteoporosis. I am now taking Fosamax, calcium supplements and estrogen. I am also trying to get more exercise, especially walking.

I read somewhere that there’s a substance in tea (perhaps tannic acid) that inhibits the body’s ability to absorb calcium. I am a tea drinker, but I will cut back on my tea consumption. I hate having to give up tea entirely and would like to indulge myself on the weekends.

What if I take calcium tablets in the morning and don’t drink tea until lunch? Basically, I want to time my tea consumption so it would not interfere with calcium absorption. Can you help me with this strategy?

A. You are correct that tannins in tea can alter mineral absorption, but iron is affected more profoundly than calcium. If you take your calcium at breakfast and have tea at lunch or in the afternoon, there should be no problem.

Calcium may not be all that it has been cracked up to be when it comes to bone health. The research is contradictory as to whether calcium will prevent osteoporosis. There is even some reason to believe that too much calcium may be hard on the cardiovascular system and increase the risk for heart attacks. More details here.

Fosamax is susceptible to interactions with foods, supplements or beverages. Be sure to take it with plain water at least half an hour before swallowing anything else.

Our free Guide to Drug and Food Interactions puts the tea and calcium concern into perspective. You may also find our Guide to Osteoporosis worth review as it describes a variety of nondrug options.

We don’t think you need to give up tea. It is a healthful beverage that may reduce your risk of heart attack and cancer.

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  1. CurlyBracket2

    Read “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell. Research suggests that eating too much protein (i.e. eating meat, fish and/or dairy every day) raises the acidity of the body, which causes the body to take calcium out of the bones in order to neutralize the acidity of the blood. The bones therefore lose calcium leading to osteoporosis. As well as timing your tea-drinking, you might want to consider cutting down on the amount of meat and fish you consume.

  2. Mary

    Several years ago my doctor ordered Actonel for osteopenia.
    I took it for about a year as I recall with no noticeable side effects.
    Then I did some research online and found out these drugs make for OLD, brittle bones that can break easily. This info was from scientific sites and probably valid. In addition, I saw the info on the possible jaw problems that mite occur.
    At that point I explained to my doctor why I had stopped the Actonel. He understood what I was telling him. I don’t think he knew from his response.

  3. ssr

    This information is all so very helpful. I am 49 and was diagnosed osteopenia 4 years ago when I had gastric by pass surgery. At that time, I also had blood work completed that showed my Vit D were low. I was so surprised at this because I thought between the dairy, greens, and sunshine I get that Vitamin D would be the least of my problems. Have taken Vit D supplements for the last 4 years, had my blood tested again, and it is still borderline being low.
    My dexa scan this year also showed bone loss. After reading all the comments, I certainly don’t want to take Fosamax, Boniva, or any of the “bone strengthening” drugs!

  4. condoline

    My dentist asked if I had ever been on “any of those bone-strengthening drugs” because they can cause the jaw to fracture when teeth are extracted. I told him a doctor had spent two years once insisting that I had “osteopenia” (a drug-company invented disease to sell Fosamax), and should take Fosamax, but with no luck. Thank goodness! As a result of my staying away from those drugs (it’s been almost two decades already), I do NOT have osteonecrosis of the jaw and I do not have any problem with femur fractures: my bones are just fine! So much for Merck and its Fosamax.

  5. June

    Try a website called saveourbones.com There is a wealth of information here and the consensus of opinion is that Fosamax and other types of bone meds only look good on the x rays. They do harden and make bones more brittle thus subject to breakage more easily. Foods with high concentrations of Vitamin K are recommended along with weight bearing exercises. There is so much more. Try to find the saveourbones site.

  6. RW

    Bone density scans showed that both my wife and I have OP. After 3 years on Boniva (once a month) my wife had her jaw bone grow out thru her gum on one side. Minor surgery corrected this, but her doctor switched her to Prolia, which is an injection once every 6 months. So far, no problem… but she has had only 1 injection. Her only repeat scan showed the Boniva gave her a slight improvement. After 2 years on Boniva, my only repeat scan (at age 72) showed the same as the first, so my doctor was happy that it did not get any worse, so I am still on it.

  7. Charlotte G.

    Another options: I also took Fosamax for awhile in my 40’s and then Actinal which gave me severe esophageal pain. I stopped and played around with different dosages of calcium. My bone densities were getting worse until I took Reclast, a once a year infusion. Now it appears something positive is happening.

  8. snohotom

    I heard on Dr OZ that putting lemon in your tea will neutralize the oxalates in the tea that block iron absorption. It also helps preserve the antioxidants.

  9. Dave

    Does the British Empire, collectively, exhibit above normal incidence of iron deficiency anemia or osteoporosis ???

  10. mc

    I’m drinking about 32 oz of oolong tea daily, as I’m cutting back on diet soda. Is there any concrete evidence of a tie between tea and osteoporosis?

  11. csm

    Consider educating yourself further about osteoporosis and the accuracy and background of DEXA scans.
    Here is a great place to start with this NPR article:
    Here is another wonderful blog filled with information.
    I am not associated with either site–just had too many doctors who are not
    educated about OP trying to start me on medications.
    Best Wishes to you.

  12. SaraD

    Research on bisphosphonate drugs (Fosamax, Actonel and yearly IV preparations) has indicated that there are major problems with this class of drugs.
    I personally use Strontium Citrate and have not broken a single bone since I’ve started that supplement.
    People’s Pharmacy could do a real service to their readers by summarizing the research on Strontium Citrate (supplement available in the U.S.) and Strontium ranelate (prescription drug in Europe).

  13. Karen

    What’s your vitamin D status? That’s as much a component of bone health as calcium.

  14. L B

    Helpful information! However, I would still like to know if it applies to green tea which I drink every day after dinner (organic, decaf). Is this tannic acid in green tea as well? I also take a calcium (timed release) tablet once daily in the morning.

  15. H. D.

    I would advise you to have your bone density monitored VERY carefully. Osteoporosis also runs in my family. My father died of complications of the disease. He took Fosomax for years and his bones kept deteriorating, in spite of supplements.
    My doc put my on Actinol. My DENTIST noticed the problems, 6 months into taking it. I LOST bone density!! I began reading and “experimenting” with supplements. I NOW take 1500 mg in magnesium, 2200 mg in calcium and 10000 IU Vitamin D daily. I have bone density tests faithfully every year. My doc & I have noticed that my bone density has increased slightly every year!!
    I have been doing this (varying slightly the dosage, as I experimented for almost 20 years. I began at a negative 1 and am now a positive 1.5 for both hips and spine! I am also 60 years of age.

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