Osteoporosis can be a devastating disease, but the good news is that it’s preventable. Here are some steps you can take to decrease your risk:
- Drink your milk. Low-fat and skim milk, nonfat yogurt, and reduced-fat cheeses (except cottage cheese) are healthy sources of the calcium you need to build strong bones. Fortified milk products also have the vitamin D needed for proper calcium absorption.
- Go fish. Canned sardines and salmon, eaten with their bones, are also rich in calcium. Mackerel and other oily fish are rich in vitamin D.
- Eat greens with gusto. Leafy green vegetables have lots of calcium, plus the potassium and vitamin K you need to block calcium loss from bones. Fill up on broccoli, bok choy, kale, Swiss chard, and turnip greens. Bananas also supply a potassium boost.
- Serve yourself soy. Soy contains not only calcium but also plant estrogens, and it seems to help maintain bone density. Substitute soy flour for regular flour in recipes from pancakes to cupcakes. Nibble on roasted soybean “nuts” instead of peanuts. Reach for soy cereal and soy cheeses. Make malts and smoothies with soy milk.
- Don’t overdo protein. High protein intake can raise your excretion of calcium. Limit yourself to the RDA of 50 grams daily for women, 63 grams for men. Many Americans eat twice that much.
- Limit caffeine. Limit your caffeine intake to the equivalent of three cups of coffee a day, since caffeine causes the body to excrete calcium more readily.
- Eat your onions. In male rats, those fed one gram of dry onion daily experienced a 20% reduction in the bone breakdown process that can lead to osteoporosis — slightly more than with the drug calcitonin.
Your Exercise Plan
- Get with the program. A regular program of weight-bearing exercise helps stop further bone loss and may be one of the few ways to build bone as you age. By improving your posture, balance, and flexibility, it also reduces your risk of falls that can break fragile bones. Exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week. Try walking, running, weight lifting, stair climbing, tennis, or volleyball. Swimming won’t do; your bones and muscles must work against gravity for a bone-building effect.
- Test your bones. Bone-density tests are the only way to predict your fracture risk and definitively nail down a diagnosis of osteoporosis. All women over 65 should be scanned, as well as younger postmenopausal women with one or more osteoporosis risk factors. Some doctors recommend that women have a baseline scan at menopause. When repeated at intervals of a year or more, the scans can determine your rate of bone loss and help monitor prevention and treatment efforts. Most experts recommend a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) test.
- Get measured. Ask your doctor to measure your height on an annual basis. A loss of one or two inches is an early sign of undiagnosed vertebral fractures and osteoporosis.
- Seek treatment. Confer with your doctor about conditions that can threaten bone density and what countermeasures you may need. Conditions include hyperparathyroidism, hyperthyroidism, hypogonadism, certain intestinal and kidney disorders, and certain cancers.
- Choose calcium. Both women and men need 1,000 mg of elemental calcium a day during midlife. The need rises to 1,500 to 2,000 mg daily after menopause in women and after age 65 in men. Most people don’t get enough in their diets, so supplements are recommended. Because the body can absorb only a limited amount of calcium at once, take supplements in two or three doses during the day, preferably with meals. Make sure the supplement contains vitamin D, which facilitates the absorption of calcium.
- Quit smoking. Among 80-year-olds, smokers have up to 10% lower bone-mineral density, which translates into twice the risk of spinal fractures and a 50% increase in risk of hip fracture. One in eight hip fractures in women is linked to long-term cigarette use. What’s more, fractures heal slower in smokers, and are more apt to heal improperly.
- Avoid excessive alcohol. Too much alcohol prevents your body from absorbing calcium properly. Limit yourself to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
- Don’t let depression linger. Depression causes your body to produce cortisol, a stress-related hormone that saps minerals from bones. One study showed that women with clinical depression had lower bone densities in their hips and spines. So see a doctor or therapist for treatment.