Osteoporosis: Prevention and treatment – Part 2

Take care of your bones throughout your life.

It is never too late to incorporate new daily habits to take care of your bones. Osteoporosis: How does bone loss happen? Part 1 points out that bone loss does not have to be an inevitable part of aging. To maintain bone health throughout your life, these are important actions to take:

Get enough calcium and vitamin D

Make sure you are getting the recommended amount for your age – this ranges from 200 milligrams for an infant to 1,300 milligrams for teens, with older adults needing around 1,200 milligrams. Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for life. According to Michigan State University Extension, calcium has numerous vital roles in overall health, including managing hypertension and cholesterol. About 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies is in our bones and teeth. Each day we lose calcium and our bodies cannot produce new calcium. If we don’t obtain enough calcium for our body’s needs, it is taken from our bones.

Calcium in food

You can get the recommended amounts of calcium by eating a variety of foods, which include:

  • Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Vegetable sources, including kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage
  • Fish with soft bones that you eat, such as canned sardines and salmon
  • Calcium is added to some breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soy and rice beverages and tofu. To find out whether these foods have calcium, check the food labels.

Calcium supplements

The two main forms of calcium dietary supplements are carbonate and citrate. Calcium carbonate is inexpensive and is absorbed best when taken with food. Calcium citrate, a more expensive form of the supplement, is absorbed well on an empty or a full stomach. In addition, people with low levels of stomach acid (a condition more common in people over age 50) absorb calcium citrate more easily than calcium carbonate.

Calcium absorption is best when a person consumes no more than 500 milligrams at one time. For example, a person who takes 1,000 milligrams day of calcium supplements should split the dose rather than take it all at once. Review the safe upper limits of calcium to avoid taking too much, which could result in constipation and other complications.

Vitamin D

We also need vitamin D to help absorb the calcium in our food or in the supplements we take. Our body is able to make enough vitamin D if we are out in the sun without sunscreen for 10 to 15 minutes at least twice a week. Because of the cancer risk from the sun, most people need to get vitamin D from other sources, including eating foods rich in vitamin D and taking vitamin D supplements. Many calcium supplements are combined with vitamin D to increase its effectiveness. There are two types of vitamin D supplements – vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Both types are good for bone health, and can be taken with or without food. While your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, you do not need to take vitamin D at the same time as a calcium supplement. If you need help choosing a vitamin D supplement, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist to recommend one. For more information on supplements see the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Weight-bearing exercise

Swimming and bicycling are great activities for general health, but are not weight-bearing and do not contribute to bone density. The National Institute on Aging’s Go4Life helps adults age 50 and older incorporate more exercise and physical activity into their daily lives. Activities such as walking, playing tennis or dancing for 30-50 minutes, at least four times a week will help maintain strong bones.

Avoid smoking and limit alcohol and caffeine.

Talk to your health care provider about screening

The most widely recognized bone density test is a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan of the hip and spine. This test shows if you have normal bone density, low bone mass or osteoporosis. It is also used to monitor bone density changes as a person ages, or in response to treatment.

If you are diagnosed with low bone density, talk to your doctor about medications to treat bone loss. New classes of drugs have been developed that significantly reduce the risk of fractures in individuals with bone disease.

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