Calcium and Osteoporosis
Lucia Magat-Gregorio, MD, is a board-certified internal medicine physician at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: Will adding calcium to my diet help counteract osteoporosis?
Answer: Osteoporosis, which affects more than 28 million Americans, can definitely be neutralized with a well-balanced diet, and the support of regular, low-impact exercise but drinking an extra glass of milk will not completely halt the disease.
Every patient has selected “risk factors” that help determine if they may be susceptible to osteoporosis. If you have a family history of osteoporosis, you are more likely to have the disease. Osteoporosis is about four times more common in women than in men and tends to occur more often in slender people. Smokers, people with bone-related illnesses, or high-impact exercisers also are more susceptible to osteoporosis. Heavy alcohol consumption affects calcium absorption and reduces bone growth so heavy drinkers are more likely to have osteoporosis as well.
I always suggest a bone density test to anyone with a family history of osteoporosis or who is over the age of 55. Bone density tests typically involve an x-ray of your hips and your spine and take 10 to 15 minutes. They are the best way to detect bone loss at any degree and may help prevent future serious bone breaks, such as hip or leg breaks.
Once we determine risk factors and bone density, it is easier to determine what “prescription” is needed to ward off osteoporosis. Most people need a daily calcium intake of at least 1,000 mg each day, which is approximately the same amount of calcium in five 8-ounce glasses of milk or five cups of plain yogurt. If you are a man over age 65 or a postmenopausal woman not taking hormone replacement therapy, up your daily requirement to 1,500 mg per day.
Adding 15 minutes of sunshine a day helps produce Vitamin D, which is important in building bones but you have to be careful to protect your skin while enjoying the sun. Exercise is also very important. Low impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming or dancing is a perfect way to build strong bones but be careful of falling.
If left untreated, osteoporosis also can lead to stooped posture, loss of height and increased amount of broken bones so it is important to be aware of your risk. Talk to your physician today about your risk factors and schedule a bone density test if you fit into the high risk category.