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Osteoporosis Health Center

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Preventing Osteoporosis: 9 Questions and Answers

4. Does osteoporosis affect children -- and should I give them calcium supplements?

Osteoporosis in children is rare. It's usually the result of a chronic health condition such as asthma or cystic fibrosis that is treated with long-term steroids. Anticonvulsant drugs used to manage epilepsy, or used to manage mania in bipolar disorder, and other conditions may also interfere with calcium and vitamin D metabolism, leading to weak bones. Treatment usually depends on controlling the underlying disease or changing the medication. Sometimes, children will develop osteoporosis with no clear cause. It's called idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis, but the good news is that it usually goes away on its own within two to four years.

Of course, calcium and vitamin D are the most important nutrients for strong bones and are important for all children whether they have osteoporosis or not. Even if children are healthy now, low levels of calcium and vitamin D can greatly increase their risk of osteoporosis later in life. So keep track of how much calcium your children get from food and ensure they get adequate amounts of vitamin D. If you are worried they aren't getting enough calcium and vitamin D, talk to their health care provider. Don't give them supplements unless they are recommended by your child's health care provider.

5. Am I likely to develop vitamin D deficiency in winter -- and why is vitamin D essential for calcium absorption?

Our bodies create vitamin D from sunshine -- 10 to 15 minutes of sun a day is all that is needed. During winter, we spend less time outdoors, and we’re bundled up against the cold. So some experts think the risk of vitamin D deficiency is higher in winter.

But year-round, many of us don’t get the vitamin D we need. The Institute of Medicine recommends:

  • 600 IU (international units) a day for adults through age 70
  • 800 IU a day for adults ages 70 and older

Vitamin D plays a vital role in getting calcium into the bloodstream from the intestines and the kidneys. Without enough vitamin D, a lot of the calcium you take in from food or supplements could pass out of the body as waste.  If you don’t get outdoors much or get vitamin D from fortified foods, ask your health care provider about taking vitamin D supplements. 

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