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Protect Against Osteoporosis When You’re Lactose Intolerant

Protect Your Bones if You Have Lactose Intolerance

An important part of preventing osteoporosis is making sure you receive enough calcium and vitamin D during your lifetime. If you have lactose intolerance, that may be a more challenging task.

“People with lactose intolerance need an even stronger focus on calcium and vitamin D intake, and they need to maximize other measures to promote bone health such as weight bearing exercise,” says Mary O’Connor, MD, chair of the Orthopaedic Surgery Department of the Mayo Clinic Florida and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).  

Most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate a small amount of dairy without getting symptoms. 

Other options that don’t exclude dairy to help prevent lactose intolerance include:  

  • Lactose-free or reduced-lactose milk and dairy products. Many manufacturers now offer dairy products that have had the lactose removed.
  • Lactase tablets or drops. Taking these tablets or drops with the first bite or drink of dairy helps prevent lactose intolerance symptoms.

There are many non-dairy sources of calcium that offer these nutrients. “Consider almonds,” Frechman says. One ounce of almonds contains about 80 milligrams of calcium. She also recommends eating fish with bones like sardines and salmon. Before canning, the fish is slightly cooked, and this softens the bones. 

Non-dairy source of calcium include: 

  • Vegetables (lettuce, kale, broccoli, okra, bok choy, and many others)
  • Non-dairy milk products (soy, rice, and almond milk)
  • Canned Fish (salmon and sardines with edible bones included)
  • Nuts (almonds, hazel nuts, pecans, walnuts)
  • Seafood (shrimp, raw oysters, mackerel)
  • Calcium fortified products (fruit juices, breakfast cereals, tofu)
  • Dried fruit
  • Molasses

Healthy Bones: A Lifelong Commitment

Adequate calcium intake should begin early. “The really scary thing is the young girls who aren’t consuming enough calcium. These are the bone-growing years. Over 80% of teenage girls are not getting enough calcium,” Frechman says. According to the USDA, that number may be even higher, and boys aren’t faring much better. Nearly 90% of all American teenagers do not consume enough calcium.

O’Connor stresses the importance of teaching kids about bone health. Teaching them good habits now can protect against problems as they get older. “The best option in kids is to develop good awareness of bone health early. They are in the time of peak bone development and peak bone health,” she says. “It’s all about calcium, vitamin D, and weight bearing exercise.” 

The Keys to Bone Health: Adequate Calcium, Vitamin D, and Exercise

You need calcium and vitamin D to have healthy bones. Vitamin D allows calcium to be absorbed by your body. High-calcium foods like dairy, including lactose-free dairy, are the best source of calcium. Supplements may be needed if you don't get enough calcium through foods..

“It is a challenge. It’s hard to remember to take supplements even once a day, so I keep a bottle of wafers on my desk that contain calcium and vitamin D. I take one at lunch and another with my dinner. I get the rest through my diet,” O’Connor says. 

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