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What You Should Know About

Nutrition and Osteoporosis
absorptiometry (DEXA) scan or heel

f someone offered you the chance to avoid a disease that causes your ultrasound can tell if you are developing
bones to break, would you take it? Well, the disease is osteoporosis, or already have osteoporosis. But
and you have the opportunity to prevent or delay it by taking a few sim- whether or not you get the test or have
ple measures, including nutrition and exercise. Although osteoporosis— the condition, every woman should fol-
or thinning bones—primarily occurs in women over age 50 years, your best low some basic nutritional principles.
chance for prevention is when you’re young. So whatever your age, you need It’s never too late for prevention, but
to be informed about nutrition and osteoporosis. the earlier you start, the better.

Calcium Is Key
The Brittle Bone Disease Factors in your personal and health The most important nutrient for strong,
Osteoporosis is a condition in which history make it more or less likely that fracture-resistant bones is calcium. You
the bones become thinner and weak- you will develop osteoporosis. Some of can get calcium through food sources
er. Throughout your life, your bones these can’t be changed, so it’s impor- or supplements, or a combination of
are constantly in the process of build- tant to control the factors that you can both. The recommended amount of
ing up and breaking down. In healthy alter. Women are more likely to develop calcium varies by age, but studies
people, up until about age 30 years, osteoporosis than men, and aging show that most Americans are not get-
more bone is formed than is broken increases your risk. White and Asian ting the recommended amount.
down. Your bones are strongest women are more likely than black and Dairy products are excellent sources
around this age group. As you age, Latino women to get osteoporosis. of calcium. For example, an 8-oz glass
however, more bone is broken down Women whose mothers had fractures of fat-free milk contains about 300 mg
than is built up. Bone loss occurs even due to osteoporosis also may have an of calcium and an 8-oz container of fat-
more rapidly during the first few years increased likelihood. These are all risk free yogurt contains approximately 425
of menopause. After menopause, factors that cannot be changed. mg. Cheese provides about 240 mg
bone loss still continues, but at a slow- However, there are a number of risk per 1-oz serving but, because of its
er rate. If you start out with strong factors that you can change. Women high fat content, it should be con-
bones at a young age, you have less who have infrequent or no periods, who sumed in moderation. Many foods are
chance of developing osteoporosis use certain medications (steroids, anti- fortified with calcium, including orange
when you get older. seizure medications), who have anorex- juice, cereals, and breads; read the
Osteoporosis affects about 44 million ia or low body weight, or who are con- nutritional information to see how much
Americans, more than half of whom are fined to bed for a long period of time, is in each serving.
over age 50 years old. Ten million should discuss osteoporosis prevention If you’re lactose intolerant or just don’t
Americans already have osteoporosis, with their health care providers. In addi- like or use dairy products, there are
and eight out of 10 of them are women. tion, people who smoke are at higher other dietary sources of calcium. Dark
Half of all women over age 50 years will risk for osteoporosis as well as heart green leafy vegetables such as collard
have an osteoporosis-related fracture. disease, breathing problems, and can- greens, broccoli, and spinach, and
cer. Therefore, women who smoke almonds, beans, and soybean prod-
have another important reason to quit. ucts (tofu, soy milk, tempeh) contain
This Patient Handout was prepared by In addition to having healthier hearts calcium. Canned sardines and salmon
Diane E. Judge, APN, CNP,
and lungs, those who exercise regularly with bones are also high in calcium.
using materials from the
also have healthier bones than those If getting enough calcium in your diet
National Institutes of Health
(http://www.nih.gov). who do not. is difficult, you can get part or all of
Tests such as a dual energy X-ray your calcium from supplements. Most

The Female Patient grants permission to reproduce this handout for the purpose of patient education. 7/04
Nutrition and Osteoporosis

daily multivitamins do not contain an

Ideal Amounts of Calcium for Women and Children
adequate amount of calcium, so you’ll
need to take a specific calcium supple- Age Group Ideal Amount of Calcium Per Day
ment. For your body to absorb calcium
efficiently, take supplements in divided
Birth to 6 months 400 mg
doses, rather than all at one time. For
6-12 months 600 mg
instance, if you are a 36-year-old
woman and your recommended calci-
1-5 years 800 mg
um intake is 1,000 mg per day, take
6-10 years 800-1,200 mg
one 500-mg tablet in the morning and
Adolescents and young adults 1,200-1,500 mg
another one in the evening.
(ages 11-24)
For most women, getting too much
calcium either from food or supple- 25 years to menopause 1,000 mg
ments is not an issue as your body will After menopause
simply eliminate any excess. However, Using estrogen 1,000 mg
in those who have specific medical Not using estrogen 1,500 mg
conditions or who are taking certain Over 65 years 1,500 mg
medications, too much calcium can be Source: Optimal Calcium Intake. National Institutes of Health Consensus Statement, June 6-8, 1994.
hazardous to their health. It is always
important to check with your health
care provider or pharmacist before tive is to take a calcium supplement of protein (meat, chicken, fish) or sodi-
starting any supplements or imple- that also contains vitamin D. If you do um (table salt, salty foods and snacks)
menting any dietary changes. take a vitamin D supplement, be careful contributes to bone loss. Phosphorus is
not to take an excess amount. Unlike found in soft drinks and may decrease
Add Vitamin D calcium, too much vitamin D can cause calcium levels in the blood of children.
Adequate amounts of vitamin D are serious health problems. Water, nonfat milk, and 100% fruit juice
necessary for your body to absorb cal- Research suggests that vitamin D are more healthful choices.
cium properly and for your bones to may be even more important for older Also, try soy. In addition to supplying
stay healthy. Your skin makes vitamin D women. In addition to helping absorb calcium, soy products may have a
when you’re exposed to sunlight. calcium and having a direct effect on direct beneficial effect on bones.
However, sun exposure can cause skin bones, it may also help prevent falls Remember, following a healthy diet
cancer and dermatologists caution us that lead to fractures, perhaps by and getting regular exercise are impor-
to stay out of the sun, wear protective strengthening muscles. tant preventive measures in reducing
clothing, and use sunscreen daily. Also, your risk of developing osteoporosis.
in some areas, sunlight is in short sup- Other Dietary Influences
ply during the winter months. Although calcium and vitamin D are the Resources
Therefore, it makes sense to get ade- most important dietary factors for bone
National Institutes of Health
quate amounts of vitamin D from forti- health, there are some other dietary Osteoporosis and Related
fied foods or supplements. principles that can influence your Bone Diseases National
The U.S. Recommended Daily bones. For starters, limit your sugar Resource Center
Allowance of vitamin D is 200 IU for intake; some studies show that a high- http://www.osteo.org/osteofast
women aged 19 to 50 years; 400 IU sugar diet can reduce the calcium con- fact.html
for women aged 51 to 60 years, and tent in bones.
600 IU for women over age 70 years. If you drink alcohol, don’t have more National Institute of Child
Health & Human Development
Vitamin D is found naturally in some than seven alcoholic beverages a week.
foods, such as high-fat fish (salmon, Although the reason is unknown, women
mackerel, sardines canned in oil, eel) who drink more have an increased risk
and egg yolk, and is added to many of developing osteoporosis. Medline Plus
others, such as milk and cereal. Read In addition, avoid high protein, phos- http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medline
the labels to see how much vitamin D phorus, and sodium intakes. In some plus/druginfo/uspdi/202108.html
each serving contains. Another alterna- women, eating unusually large amounts

7/04 The Female Patient grants permission to reproduce this handout for the purpose of patient education.