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Build Strong Bones

Por Claudia M. González, MS, RD, LD/N* -

Most people can prevent osteoporosis by building strong bones, particularly before age 30.

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low-density bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue. This leads to fragile bones and an increased susceptibility to fractures, especially of the spine, wrist, and hips. Many refer to osteoporosis as the "silent disease" because it occurs over many years without symptoms. It can also remain undiagnosed until a bone fracture occurs.

More than 25 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis, making it a major public health concern. Although women make up 80% of those afflicted, one third of all men will suffer from the disease by age 75.

How does osteoporosis develop?

Most people think that mineral calcium is the only link between osteoporosis and bones. Calcium certainly plays an important role in bone formation, but other vitamins and minerals are also important. Normal development and mineralization of bone requires calcium, phosphorus, fluoride, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin K, and protein. However, calcium and vitamin D are key. Appropriate calcium intake falls between 1000 and 1300 milligrams a day, depending on age. Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption and bone maintenance. Often called the sunshine vitamin, with sufficient sunlight, your body can synthesize all it needs of this fat-soluble nutrient. To prevent deficiency, milk and some cereals come fortified with vitamin D.

Bones are constantly changing. They are comprised of living tissue. Calcium gets deposited and withdrawn from the skeleton on a daily basis.  To maintain strong bones, regular calcium deposits must be made to replace the losses. If enough calcium is not consumed, or the body doesn't adequately absorb it due to vitamin D deficiencies, the body may have more calcium withdrawals than deposits. This process gradually depletes bones, eventually making them more porous and fragile.

Sources of calcium

Dairy foods supply 75% of all calcium in the U.S. food supply. Aside from providing calcium, they also supply protein, vitamin D, and phosphorus. Together, they help the body absorb and deposit calcium in bones. Some dark-green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach), and fish with edible bones (salmon, anchovies) provide fair amounts of calcium. Many processed foods, like orange juice and breakfast cereal, may come calcium fortified.

Can you take a calcium supplement?

Eating a variety of healthy foods is the best way to obtain nutrients. However, some people may need to take supplements to ensure adequate calcium intake, especially those with limited dairy consumption. Before you head to the supplement aisle at the grocery store, take a critical look at your diet, especially your milk and dairy consumption.

Move your skeleton

Exercise also plays an important role in bone health. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, dancing, jogging, stair-climbing, racquet sports, and hiking, are the most beneficial. Although osteoporosis can be treated, there is no cure. Do all you can to prevent the disease! Start preventing osteoporosis today!


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