1. How can I prevent osteoporosis before it starts?
Experts consider osteoporosis a largely preventable disease. Prevention should start early. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D as a child and teenager can dramatically cut your risks of developing osteoporosis later in life. Even if you're an adult, eating a healthy diet, getting enough calcium and vitamin D, exercising, and avoiding unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking and excessive drinking, may help prevent osteoporosis. After menopause, women who have osteopenia, or thinning of the bones, can consider other drug therapies used to prevent bone loss and reduce their risk of osteoporosis. To learn about osteoporosis prevention techniques, talk to your health care provider.
2. Am I getting enough calcium -- and how much is too much?
The amount of calcium you need depends on your age. The Institute of Medicine recommends the following:
- Adolescents should get 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day.
- Adults from 19 to 50 years of age should get 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.
- Adult women over the age of 50 should get 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day.
- Adult men should receive 1,000 milligrams up to age 70 and 1,200 milligrams after age 70.
Read food labels and select foods that contain 10% or more of the Daily Value for calcium. When food shopping, look for terms such as "high in calcium," "fortified with calcium," "calcium-rich," or "excellent source of calcium."
If you think you're coming up short, talk to your health care provider about ways you can boost your calcium levels in your diet. Experts are weighing the risks and benefits of calcium supplements. Recent research has suggested that calcium supplements might increase your risk for heart attacks. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you.
3. Is calcium from dairy products better than from other sources?
Dairy products have high levels of calcium per serving, which is why they're often recommended for bone health. But calcium from other sources -- like spinach, bok choy, and mustard greens, beans, tofu, almonds, fish, and many fortified cereals and juices -- can be just as beneficial. However, it may be difficult to get adequate calcium from food if you don’t eat dairy. And osteoporosis experts do say the best source of calcium is from foods, not supplements. Food contains other important nutrients that help the body use calcium.
4. Does osteoporosis affect children -- and should I give them calcium supplements?
Osteoporosis in children is rare. It's usually the result of a chronic health condition such as asthma or cystic fibrosis that is treated with long-term corticosteroid medications. Anticonvulsant drugs used to manage epilepsy, bipolar disorder, and other conditions may also interfere with calcium and vitamin D metabolism, leading to weak bones. Treatment usually depends on controlling the underlying disease or changing the medication. Sometimes, children will develop osteoporosis with no clear cause. It's called idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis, but the good news is that it usually goes away on its own within two to four years.
Of course, calcium and vitamin D are the most important nutrients for strong bones and are important for all children whether they have osteoporosis or not. Even if children are healthy now, low levels of calcium and vitamin D can greatly increase their risk of osteoporosis later in life. So keep track of how much calcium your children get from food and ensure they get adequate amounts of vitamin D. If you are worried they aren't getting enough calcium and vitamin D, talk to their health care provider. Don't give them supplements unless they are recommended by your child's health care provider.