If your doctor says you have thinning bones -- osteopenia or osteoporosis-- it's critical to take steps to slow the progression of this disease.
Calcium, exercise, no smoking, no excess drinking, bone density tests -- all these are necessary, says Kathryn Diemer, MD, professor of medicine and osteoporosis specialist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
It is important to identify the symptoms of spinal compression fractures and notify your doctor right away. Sudden, severe back pain, especially in older women, may signal a spinal compression fracture or another serious condition.
Anyone with significant back pain -- especially a woman who is near or over age 50 -- should see a doctor. Most compression fractures in women over 50 are due to osteoporosis and treatment can help reduce the chance of further compression fractures.
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"These are basic things that all women should do," Diemer tells WebMD. But they’re especially important for women with low bone density. While you can never regain the bone density you had in your youth, you can help prevent rapidly thinning bones, even after your diagnosis.
Here’s a breakdown of five lifestyle steps to help you on the road to better bone health.
Bone Health Step 1: Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium builds strong bones, but vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. That's why postmenopausal women need 1,200 milligrams calcium and at least 400 IU to 600 IU vitamin D daily for better bone health.
"Any patient being treated for osteoporosis should have both calcium and vitamin D levels checked in blood tests," says Diemer.
Most American women get less than 500 milligrams of calcium in their daily diet. "Sun exposure helps produce vitamin D, but as we get older, our skin is not as efficient at making vitamin D. Also, if we're careful to use sunscreen, we're at risk of having low vitamin D level."
Here are ways to give your body a boost of both calcium and vitamin D:
Calcium in food: We know that dairy has calcium, but other foods do, too.
Low-fat milk or soy milk (8 ounces): 300 milligrams calcium
A calcium supplement may be necessary to make sure that you're getting enough, says Diemer.
Calcium supplements: All the calcium bottles on store shelves can be confusing. Basically, there are two types of calcium -- calcium carbonate and calcium citrate -- that can be purchased over the counter.
Calcium carbonate must be taken with food for the body to absorb it. Many women have side effects from calcium carbonate -- gastrointestinal upset, gassiness, and constipation, Diemer tells WebMD. If you take calcium carbonate with magnesium, however, you won't likely have the constipation. "It acts just like Milk of Magnesia and seems to help move things through."