Preventing Osteoporosis

What is osteoporosis?

When the bones in your body lose calcium, they become thin and may break more easily. This is called osteoporosis. When osteoporosis is severe, bones may become so weak that they break during everyday activities such as bending over or walking.

Bones are hard. How can they become weak?

Calcium is stored in your bones. Your body regularly takes calcium out of your bones for other uses that keep you healthy. At the same time, your body takes the calcium from your food and puts more calcium back in your bones. During your childhood and young adulthood years, more calcium is put into your bones than is taken out. Your bones get thicker and harder. By the time you are 30 years old, your bones are as strong as they will ever be. After you turn 30 years old, your body does not store calcium or build bone as easily. For some women, more calcium starts to be taken out of their bones than is stored or put into their bones, which makes their bones become weaker.

Who gets osteoporosis?

More than 44 million people in the United States have some bone weakness. Most are women older than 40 years. You are more at risk of getting osteoporosis if you:

  • Are white or Asian
  • Are older than 65 years
  • Are in poor health
  • Have a small bone structure or are very thin
  • Have a family member with osteoporosis
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Drink too much alcohol
  • Do not get regular exercise
  • Don’t consume dairy products, such as milk or cheese, or eat many foods with calcium
  • Take a medication that increases your chance of getting osteoporosis
  • Have a medical condition that increases your chance of getting osteoporosis

How can I prevent osteoporosis?

When you are young, osteoporosis can be prevented if you get enough exercise and have enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. At all ages, you can lower your chance of getting osteoporosis if you:

  • Get regular exercise that puts pressure on your bones such as walking, jogging, climbing stairs, hiking, yoga, tennis, dancing, or exercise with weights or bands.
  • Get enough calcium: 1000 mg every day if you are 50 years or younger, 1200 mg every day if you are 51 years or older
  • Get enough vitamin D (D3 is best): 600 units every day if you are 70 years or younger, 800 units every day if you are 71 years or older
  • Do not smoke cigarettes
  • Cut back on the amount of alcohol you drink if you drink alcohol every day or a lot at one time

How can I get enough calcium?

You can take a vitamin that has calcium in it, but it is best to get calcium from the food you eat if you can. Your body does not absorb calcium as well when you take a calcium vitamin. Milk and other dairy products have the most calcium. If you don’t like dairy products or can’t eat them, there are many other good sources of calcium. For example, one cup of calcium-fortified cereal can give you up to 1000 mg or all you need for the day. Cereals can have 200 mg to 1000 mg calcium added so it is important to read the label. Many women who cannot eat dairy products can eat yogurt, and yogurt has a lot of calcium. Two 8-oz servings of yogurt per day provides about 800 mg.

What are the best food sources of calcium?

  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt, or cheese
  • Nondairy milk products like almond, rice, or soy milk that are calcium fortified (have calcium added)
  • Green leafy vegetables like collard greens, turnip greens, kale, or spinach
  • Seafood like sardines or canned salmon with the bones
  • Fortified cereals such as Total, Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran, or Instant Oatmeal
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Enriched bread, grains, or waffles
  • White beans

How can I get enough vitamin D?

It is more difficult to get enough vitamin D than calcium. The sun is an important source and causes the body to produce its own vitamin D. Some researchers feel exposing the face, arms, legs, or back to the sun between the hours of 10 AM and 3PM for 5 to 30 minutes without sunscreen helps this process. But this must be balanced with the problems that can be caused by exposure to harmful UV sunrays. You can get vitamin D from your diet by eating fortified cereals and dairy products. Milk contains a little more than 100 units of vitamin D in 1 cup. Other sources include some fish, such as salmon and tuna, and eggs. If you can’t get enough vitamin D from sun exposure or your diet, you may need to take a vitamin that has vitamin D in it.

For More Information

National Osteoporosis Foundation

Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services

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