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Protect Against Osteoporosis When You’re Lactose Intolerant

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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. 

She encourages her patients to find a way that personally works for them. In addition to dairy, options include pills, wafers, chewable tablets, and even chocolate with added calcium. Because your body can only absorb 500mg of calcium at a time, O’Connor says it is important to take your calcium supplements throughout the day. 

Getting enough vitamin D can be a challenge for everyone, even those who are not lactose intolerant. Very few foods contain vitamin D, but our bodies can make vitamin D when exposed to the sun. However, like with regular dairy, lactose-free dairy is fortified with vitamin D. Non-dairy beverages, such as soy and almond milk, as well as orange are also often fortified with vitamin D.

You can also get vitamin D through small amounts of sun exposure. “We wear sunscreen every day and stay out of the sun, but you need at least 15 minutes of sun a day to get enough vitamin D,” says O’Connor. Other researchers suggest between five and 30 minutes of sun exposure at least twice a week. Because it is so hard to be sure you have adequate vitamin D, O’Conner and Frechman recommend a calcium supplement that contains vitamin D as well.

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