Osteoporosis, the ''brittle bone'' condition, affects about 10 million Americans, and can affect both women and men. The bones become weak and break more easily when you have osteoporosis. The condition should be taken seriously. About half of all women past age 50 will suffer a broken bone due to osteoporosis. It affects men less often. Even so, an estimated 1 in 4 men will break a bone due to the condition, too.
Here is what you need to know, from risk factors to diagnosis to treatment -- plus, tips on doing a lifestyle check to see if you might reduce your risk by improving your habits.
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):
Doctors know that some people are more likely than others to develop osteoporosis due to certain risk factors. Some of these risk factors are not under your control. Age is a risk factor you can't control. Osteoporosis is more likely in older people. Women are more likely than men to get osteoporosis.
Family history increases the chances that you, too, will develop it. The condition may not have been diagnosed in your parents. However, if one or both had a noticeable amount of height loss, they may have had fractures in the spine, and that could be the result of osteoporosis.
If you have a small, thin frame, you are more likely to get osteoporosis.
Bone Health and Your Lifestyle Habits
Your everyday habits -- good and bad -- affect bone health. How do your habits stack up?
Vitamin D and calcium. Not getting enough vitamin D or calcium can weaken your bones. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends adults under age 50 get 400-800 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 mg of calcium daily. Those 50 and older should get 800-1,000 IU of vitamin D and 1,200 mg of calcium daily.
Fruits and vegetables. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables provides you with magnesium, potassium, and vitamin K -- all good things for bone health.
Protein. Very high amounts of non-dairy animal protein can weaken the bones. Sufficient protein is important for bone health. Ask your doctor about the right amount for you and your weight and activity level.
Caffeine. When used in excess, caffeine can threaten bone health.
Alcohol. Excess alcohol intake can decrease bone formation. If you are tipsy from the alcohol, you're more likely to fall. In older people, falls are linked with broken bones.
Activity level. Physical activity can help keep bones strong. If you're not an exerciser, ask your doctor for guidance on doing weight-bearing exercises such as fast walking. Ask about lifting weights or other muscle-strengthening exercises. Both types are good for your bones.
Smoking. Smokers absorb less calcium, which is bad for the bones.
Osteoporosis Tests and Diagnosis
To make a diagnosis, a doctor will usually take a full medical history, order a bone density test, and possibly other tests.