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MAIN Arrow to Home Life IndexHealth Arrow to DiseaseDiseases & Conditions Arrow to Arthritis Osteoporosis

Ten Surprising Facts About Bone Health

You have cottage cheese for lunch and regularly swim after dinner, so you think you're getting the calcium and exercise you need to ward off osteoporosis.

Sorry, think again.

“Many people are surprisingly misinformed or uninformed about how to build healthy bones,” said David Hamerman, MD, director of the new Center for Bone Health at Montefiore Medical Center (MMC). “Women know they need calcium and that they rapidly lose bone mass after menopause, but not much more,” he said.

As a result, one in two women and one in eight men over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetimes, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Few people suspect they have this “silent disease” until their bones are so thin and weak they break easily, especially in the hip, spine, and wrist. In many cases, adopting healthy bone habits earlier in life could have prevented osteoporosis.

“Osteoporosis is the consequence of a lifetime of poor nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle practices,” Dr. Hamerman said. “It's not just an older person's disease.”

If you understand your risk of developing osteoporosis, you can grow old with your bones intact. These ten little-known facts about bone health nutrition tips, lifestyle risks, and warning signs can help.

Ten Facts About Bone Health

Nutrition Tips


1. Your body stores almost all of its calcium in the bones, which act as a calcium “bank.” You deposit calcium daily, and the body withdraws daily what it needs. Anything that isn't used is stored for future use. The amount of daily calcium you need varies at different stages of life (see table below), but remember the body won't absorb more than 500 mg. at a time. Wait four to six hours between doses or dairy servings.

Daily Calcium Requirements For Every Stage of Life

1-3 years - 500 mg.
4-8 years - 800 mg.
9-18 years - 1,300 mg.
Pregnancy & lactation - 1,000 – 1,200 mg.
Adult women - 1,000 mg.
Post-menopause on hormones- 1,200 mg.
Post-menopause without hormones - 1,500 mg.

2. Surprise! Cottage cheese is a poor source of calcium. A one-cup serving of 1 percent fat cottage cheese has only 138 mg. of calcium, but a cup of non-fat yogurt has a whopping 450 mg. of calcium! The calcium content in hard cheeses varies, too. An ounce of processed American cheese has 130 mg of calcium while an ounce of hard Parmigiano has 335 mg. – almost three times as much. A good hard cheese to eat is Swiss cheese, with 270 mg. of calcium per ounce.

3. Low-fat dairy products are much higher in calcium than whole-milk products. Even low-fat yogurt has less calcium than non-fat yogurt – 415 mg. vs. 450 mg. per cup – while whole milk yogurt has just 274 mg. A half-cup serving of part-skim ricotta has 337 mg. of calcium vs. 257 mg. in whole ricotta. That's because non-fat products often are fortified with dry milk solids. Check labels to see what you're eating.

Foods that interfere with calcium absorption include bacon, salty snacks, and cola drinks...

4. Certain foods and beverages interfere with calcium absorption. The list includes heavily salted foods such as bacon, salami, smoked salmon, prepared soups, salty snacks and other processed food. It is recommended that you consume less than 4,000 mg. of sodium a day. Cola has phosphoric acid that blocks calcium absorption, while caffeine can actually deplete calcium. Alcohol in excess is not good, either, because it damages bones.

5. Some sun is good for you and your bones, so don't always sit in the shade. A minimum of 400 IU of Vitamin D is essential each day for the body to absorb calcium. About 15 minutes of daily sunlight without sunscreen will produce all the Vitamin D you need, although recent studies suggest increasing this amount. Because the sun doesn't shine everyday, make sure your calcium supplement contains enough Vitamin D.

6. Osteoporosis begins in the teen years. Girls achieve 42 percent of their total body bone mass between the ages of 12 and 18, yet 90 percent of girls do not get enough calcium. Beginning at age nine, children (both boys and girls) should include 1,300 mg. of calcium in their diet.

7. Contrary to the Duchess of Windsor's dictum, you can be too thin. If your bones don't carry enough weight, they will lose mass. (Paraplegics and other wheelchair-bound individuals also are at risk.) That's why you have to make your bones work. Cardiovascular exercise such as biking or swimming is good for the heart, but less so for your bones. Engage in weight-bearing exercises such as running, jumping, and lifting as well. (Consult with your physician first.)

Warning Signs and Other Risks

8. Many older women have fractured spines – but they don't know it because they don't feel or hear the bone crack. When older women lose height, suffer back pain, or develop a protruding abdomen or Dowager's Hump on their back, chances are “that's a sign of a vertebral fracture of the spine,” Dr. Hamerman points out. About 700,000 women suffer vertebral fractures each year. Brittle teeth also can be an early sign of osteoporosis.

9. Many women know there is a link between estrogen and bone health, which is why post-menopausal women have a higher risk of osteoporosis. But in some circumstances, pre-menopausal women may not produce enough estrogen. Early menopause, amenorrhea (loss of your period, sometimes as a result of too much exercise), estrogen inhibiting birth-control pharmaceuticals such as Depo-Provera, late puberty, irregular periods, or other menstrual disorders put women at higher risk of developing osteoporosis.

10. Some medications reduce bone mass, such as glucocorticoids used to control arthritis and asthma, some antiseizure drugs; certain sleeping pills, some hormones used to treat endometriosis, and some cancer drugs. Certain medical conditions also increase the risk of brittle bones, including an overactive thyroid gland, kidney disease, and lupus.

 

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