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Protect Against Osteoporosis When You’re Lactose Intolerant

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Who’s at Risk for Osteoporosis?

NIH warns that people such as those with lactose intolerance, who totally eliminate dairy from their diet, are at a substantial risk of developing osteoporosis. Limiting dairy consumption can greatly reduce your intake of calcium, an important nutrient for developing and maintaining bones. 

Other known risk factors for osteoporosis include: 

  • Thinness or small frame
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Postmenopausal or early menopause
  • Abnormal absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
  • Prolonged use of certain medications, such as those used to treat lupus, asthma, thyroid deficiencies, and seizures
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol intake

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

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