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Osteoporosis Risk Factors: Fact vs. Fiction

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Fiction: It doesn't matter if you get calcium and vitamin D from your diet or from supplements.

It's true that you should get calcium and vitamin D any way you can, and if supplements are the only way you can get them, then it's better to take supplements than miss out on these essential nutrients entirely.

However, study after study has shown that people aren't very good at taking supplements regularly, says Heaney. "But eating is something you do every day, so it's easier to make a habit of dairy consumption. Whether it's milk, yogurt, or cheese doesn't really matter -- they're all good." You can also get vitamin D from the many new fortified foods, like cereals and orange juices, now available.

Second, foods give you more of the nutrients you need than supplements. There are many dietary sources, such as dairy products, that contain many nutrients necessary for bone health, Heaney says. Bone is made of protein as well as minerals, with calcium being a principal one. Many dietary sources contain protein, phosphorus, and many other nutrients necessary for total body health.

Fiction: If you have osteoporosis, it's too late to do anything about it.

"After being diagnosed with osteoporosis, some people think they should just go home and give up. That's a terrible mistake," says Heaney. "We can do a lot to slow the disease and lower the risk of fracture. Getting a diagnosis is a good thing compared with having the disorder and not knowing it, because now you can take steps."

There are a variety of osteoporosis drugs available. Most cannot build new bone -- instead, they slow the rate of bone loss. These drugs include bisphosphonates, hormone replacement therapy, and selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). Your doctor can help you decide which drug is right for you, but it's important to know that these treatments can reduce your risk of spinal fractures by up to 65%, and your risk of fractures elsewhere in the body by up to 53%.

People with osteoporosis don't have to sit at home and stare out the window. Regular weight-bearing exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of fracture, both because it strengthens the bones and because it can help you stay strong and agile and avoid falls. Talk with your doctor about exercise that you can safely do when you have osteoporosis.

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