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Bone Health: Are You At Risk For OsteoporosisAs Baby Boomers reach middle age and our population grows older, concerns about bone health are becoming a serious issue. The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that “osteoporosis is a major public health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans.” For this reason, calcium-fortified foods are popping up in almost every grocery aisle, ads for bone-building drugs can be found in many magazines, and the amount of research on bone health is increasing. In addition, researchers recently began to ask whether or not we really need as much calcium as is recommended, and whether exercise is being underemphasized as an important step in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Amid varied opinions about how much calcium we need, whether or not to take supplements, how much exercise is necessary and when to begin bone density testing, common sense prevails. Irene O’Shaughnessy, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine (Endocrinology) at the Medical College of Wisconsin, reports that the recommendations for the prevention of osteoporosis really haven’t changed much in recent years; nutrition and exercise are still at the top of the list and it’s vital that we understand the risk factors involved.
Family History is Best IndicatorObviously, the older we get, the higher the risk for poor bone health. “But,” says Dr. O’Shaughnessy, “the strongest indicator for osteoporosis is family history. You are much more likely to have osteoporosis if you have a family member with osteoporosis. And your risk for a bone fracture goes up if you have a first-degree relative who has had a fracture.”
Dr. O’Shaughnessy continues, “Women are at greater risk than men for osteoporosis, because they start out with thinner bones, and they lose bone mass more rapidly.” Also at risk are women who have begun menopause before the age of 45, either naturally or by surgical removal of the ovaries with no estrogen therapy after the surgery. Women who have gone for more than a year without a menstrual period (amenorrhea) and are not on estrogen are also at a higher risk for osteoporosis, as are those with a history of hyperthyroidism. Bone structure and body weight can also indicate a higher risk; the smaller your body frame, the higher your risk.
In addition, says Dr. O’Shaughnessy, people taking steroids for asthma, transplant surgery, rheumatoid conditions, and inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease are also at higher risk for osteoporosis. Certain drugs for seizures and cancer treatment can raise the risk as well. Lifestyle choices also figure into your risk for osteoporosis; smoking cigarettes, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol and not getting enough exercise are all factors that increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.
What about Calcium?Getting enough calcium could be the most important part of keeping your bones strong and healthy. Most people know that milk and other dairy products like cheese and yogurt are good sources of calcium, but calcium can also be found in other foods like broccoli, kale, and almonds. Dr. O’Shaughnessy recommends taking both a calcium and a Vitamin D supplement. “Everyone should take calcium,” she says, “and Vitamin D, which is usually found in a multivitamin, helps your body absorb the calcium.”
Dr. O’Shaughnessy also warns against drinking soda and caffeinated beverages. “Soda has been shown to draw small amounts of calcium out of the bones, and caffeine has been linked to osteoporosis, but more importantly, you’re drinking something in place of milk or orange juice, two very good sources of calcium.” Dr. O’Shaughnessy recommends the following amounts of calcium:
Children under the age of 12: 800 to 1000 mg per day
Ages 12-24: 1000 mg per day
Age 25 to menopause: 1000 mg per day
Post-menopause: 1000 mg per day if taking estrogen, 1500 mg per day if not
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