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Lactose Intolerance and Osteoporosis

Bone Health Strategies continued...

Studies have shown that people who have at least some intestinal lactase can increase their tolerance to lactose by gradually introducing dairy products into the diet. These people can often eat small portions of diary products without developing symptoms. The key for them is to consume small amounts of dairy products at a time so that there is enough lactase available in the intestine to digest the lactose. When the lactose is fully digested, symptoms do not develop.

Also, certain sources of dairy products may be easier for people with lactose intolerance to digest. For example, ripened cheese may contain up to 95 percent less lactose than whole milk. Yogurt containing active cultures also lessens gastrointestinal symptoms. A variety of lactose-reduced dairy products, including milk, cottage cheese, and processed cheese slices, are also available. Lactose replacement pills and liquid are also available to help with the digestion of dairy products.

Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption and bone health. It is synthesized in the skin through exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is also found in some foods, such as fish oil, egg yolks, fortified margarine, and breakfast cereals. While many people are able to obtain enough vitamin D naturally, older individuals are often deficient in this vitamin due, in part, to limited time spent outdoors. They may require vitamin D supplements to ensure an adequate daily intake.

Exercise: Like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. The best exercise for your bones is weight-bearing exercise that forces you to work against gravity. Some examples include walking, stair climbing, and dancing. Regular exercise can help prevent bone loss and, by enhancing balance and flexibility, can reduce the likelihood of falling and breaking a bone.

Healthy lifestyle: Smoking is bad for bones as well as for the heart and lungs. Women who smoke tend to go through menopause earlier, which triggers earlier bone loss. In addition, smokers may absorb less calcium from their diets. Alcohol also can negatively affect bone health. Heavy drinkers are more prone to bone loss and fracture because of poor nutrition, as well as an increased risk of falling.

Bone density testing: Specialized tests known as bone mineral density (BMD) tests measure bone density in various parts of the body. These tests can detect osteoporosis before a bone fracture occurs and predict one’s chances of fracturing in the future. People with lactose intolerance should talk to their doctors about whether they might be candidates for a bone density test.

Medication: Like lactose intolerance, osteoporosis has no cure. However, there are medications available for preventing and treating osteoporosis. Several medications (alendronate, risedronate, ibandronate, raloxifene, calcitonin, teriparatide, and estrogen/ hormone therapy) are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the prevention and/or treatment of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Alendronate is also approved for use in men. Alendronate and risedronate also are approved for glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis in women and men.

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WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 19, 2007

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