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, and 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 they aren't getting enough, supplements may be an option. But never give your child a supplement without talking to your doctor first.
5. Am I likely to develop vitamin D deficiency in winter -- and why is vitamin D essential for calcium absorption?
Our bodies create vitamin D from sunshine, and all we really need is 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine on our skin a day. During winter, we spend less time outdoors, and we’re bundled up against the cold. So some experts think the risk of vitamin D deficiency is higher in winter.
But year-round, many of us don’t get the vitamin D we need. The Institute of Medicine recommends:
- 600 IU (international units) a day for adults under age 70
- 800 IU a day for ages 70 and older
Vitamin D plays a vital role in getting calcium into the bloodstream from the intestines and the kidneys. Without enough vitamin D, a lot of the calcium you take in from food or supplements could pass out of the body as waste. If you don’t get outdoors a lot, ask your doctor about vitamin D supplements.
6. Can genetics predispose me to low bone density and osteoporosis?
Your genes can play a big role in your risk of developing osteoporosis. For instance, studies show that if your parents had a history of bone fractures, you're more likely to have weaker bones and a higher risk of fractures yourself.
Your risk of getting osteoporosis is also higher if other family members, like aunts or siblings, had it too. A genetic risk for osteoporosis can be inherited from either your mother or father's side.
If osteoporosis does run in your family, talk to your doctor. You may need to take extra steps to prevent it.