Osteoporosis is sometimes called a "silent disease" with few, if any, noticeable changes to your health to indicate you have it. Often, the first indication of osteoporosis is when a bone breaks.
Osteoporosis can strike at any age, but occurs mostly in people over 50. By age 70, between 30 and 40 percent of all women have had at least one fracture linked to osteoporosis.
Taking steps to build bone health while you are young can literally make or break what will happen to your bones as you age. However, at every age, a bone-building diet and regular physical activity are important. They help ensure bone tissue continues to be built.
Bone Health and Diet
Bones may seem dry and dull, but they are far from it. They are constantly under construction; certain cells break down bone tissue and other cells use the calcium and nutrients in the foods you eat to build new bone. If you are not physically active or getting the nutrition you need, your bones will suffer. Over time they will become less dense, weaker and more likely to fracture.
Bone Building Nutrients
Calcium, the major nutrient needed to form new bone cells, is vital for bone health. Your bones store more than 99 percent of the calcium in your body. Milk, yogurt and cheese have the highest amount of calcium along with calcium-fortified soy milk, cereal and fruit juice. Other good sources include almonds, dark green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified tofu. Calcium needs change at different stages of life:
- Children ages 4 to 8 need at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.
- Children ages 9 to 18 need at least 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day.
- Adults ages 19 to 50 need at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.
- Women over age 50 and men over age 70 need at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day.
Important note: Most kids are not meeting their calcium needs. Less than half of adolescent boys and only one-fifth of adolescent girls eat the recommended servings of dairy foods. Visit Nutrition for Growing Bodies to learn more about calcium needs in children.
Calcium cannot build bones alone. It works with other nutrients to increase bone strength. These include:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
Foods vs. Supplements
Supplements can't duplicate what foods offer naturally. Plus, many foods rich in one bone-building nutrient also contain other helpful ones. For example, milk is rich in calcium, but it is also a good source of vitamin D, potassium and magnesium.
If you are not able to drink milk due to lactose-intolerance, try lactose-free milk and calcium-fortified food. Consult with your doctor about taking a calcium supplement with vitamin D especially if you are a menopausal or post-menopausal woman. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you choose the best supplement for your bones, and talk with your health care provider to determine if you may be at risk for osteoporosis.
Reviewed April 2014