Osteoporosis literally means porous bone. It is characterized by low bone mass, micro-architectural disruption, and increased skeletal fragility. It often leads to fractures of the wrists, hip, and spine.
The first step in the prevention of osteoporosis is ensuring adequate nutrition, particularly maintaining an adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D are essential to building strong, dense bones when we are young and to keeping them strong and healthy as we age.
Calcium is a major building block of bone tissue. Our skeleton houses 99% of our body’s calcium stores. The calcium in our bones acts as a reservoir for maintaining calcium levels in the blood. Calcium is essential for healthy bones, nerves, and muscles.
Vitamin D helps to increase the absorption of calcium in our intestines, building stronger bones. Normally, only 10-15% of available calcium is absorbed by our body in absence of vitamin D. When vitamin D is added, the absorption of dietary calcium increases to 30-40%. Vitamin D also improves muscle function, which in turn improves balance and decreases the likeliness of falls which can lead to fractures.
How much calcium and vitamin D do we need? The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends the following:
Women age 50 and younger 1000 mg calcium and 400-600 IU vitamin D
Women age 51 and older 1200 mg calcium and 800-1000 IU vitamin D
Men < 50 years old 400-600 IU vitamin D
Men > 50 years old 800-1000 IU vitamin D
Men age 70 and younger 1000 mg calcium
Men age 71 and older 1200 mg calcium
The amounts recommended include sources of calcium from both your diet and supplements.
Calcium is found in many of our foods. Well known sources include dairy – mild, yogurt, cheese, ice cream. Dark, leafy vegetables are also a good source – kale, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy. We now have many fortified foods (calcium has been added) – cereals, orange juice, almond milk. Did you know nuts, beans and seeds also contain calcium? Almonds, canned and dried beans, and sesame seeds all add calcium to our diets.
Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because it is produced in your skin in response to sunlight. We may not have enough exposure to the sun because of where we live, using sunscreen and clothing to prevent exposure, spending more time indoors, or having darker skin (increased melanin in our skin decreases absorption of vitamin D.) We may need to supplement vitamin D in our diets to prevent vitamin D deficiency that could lead to osteoporosis.
Please check with your physician before taking any supplements.