Reality: Fractures in individuals over the age of 50 can be the first sign of weak bones from osteoporosis or low bone mass. Each year, 1.5 million older Americans suffer a bone fracture due to osteoporosis. Half of all women over 50, and a quarter of all men, will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture sometime in their remaining life. And the problem is increasing: the surgeon general estimates that by 2020, half of all Americans over 50 will be at risk for bone fractures from osteoporosis and low bone mass.
If you are over 50, any broken bone should be taken very seriously. You may think to yourself, "Anyone would have broken a bone after taking a fall like that," but a break after a fall in people over 50 may be a critical sign of osteoporosis. Talk with your doctor about whether you should have a bone density test to determine if your fracture could be due to osteoporosis.
How much vitamin D do I need?
In November 2010, the Institute of Medicine's expert committee set a new "dietary reference intake" for vitamin D.
Assuming that a person gets virtually no vitamin D from sunshine -- and that this person gets adequate amounts of calcium -- the IOM committee recommends getting the following amounts of vitamin D from diet or supplements (Note that the IOM's upper limit is not a recommended intake, but what the IOM considers the highest safe level):
There are many medications available to treat osteoporosis, and they have been shown to substantially reduce the risk of bone fractures in people with osteoporosis. If your doctor prescribes an osteoporosis medication, it's important to keep taking it even if you don't see improvements on your next bone density scan. Osteoporosis drugs can be reducing your risk of bone fracture in ways that don't show up on a bone density scan. And as always, you should continue to eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.