Do you know if you’re at risk for osteoporosis or how to build and maintain strong bones for life? To raise awareness of osteoporosis, the National Osteoporosis Foundation has designated May as National Osteoporosis Month. This year’s theme, “Break Free from Osteoporosis,” encourages people to discover their risk factors and make lifestyle choices that promote maximal bone health throughout life.
What You Need to Know about Osteoporosis. Do you know that as many as 50% of women and up to 25% of men over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis? It is a silent disease characterized by low bone mass and increased risk of bone fractures. An estimated 54 million U.S. adults are at risk for low bone mass and osteoporosis. This disease contributes to considerable morbidity, loss of independence, and even mortality in older adults, along with significant health care costs.
A variety of risk factors, both genetic and environmental, determine whether a person will develop osteoporosis and be susceptible to fractures. Factors increasing risk include:
- Female gender
- Estrogen deficiency
- Advanced age
- Caucasian or Asian race
- Low body weight
- Lack of physical exercise
- Excessive alcohol intake
- History of prior fractures
- Certain medications and diseases
- Nutritionally inadequate diet.
Preventing Osteoporosis throughout Life. Following the Federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is “an important and positive step toward ensuring healthy bone growth and/or maintenance throughout the lifecycle,” reports the National Osteoporosis Foundation in a recent position statement. Consuming nutrient-rich foods and regularly participating in weight-bearing physical activity (e.g., walking, running, aerobics) are the two most important lifelong habits for bone health.
Nutrition, particularly calcium, vitamin D, and protein, as well as other micronutrients, is critical to bone health at all life stages, according to a review authored by leading bone and nutrition experts. Considering that 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in bones, it is not surprising that this nutrient plays a key role in skeletal health. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium more efficiently, and protein provides essential amino acids necessary to support the building of bone. Protein also helps prevent muscle wasting in older adults, which reduces their risk of falls and associated injuries, including fractures.
You’re never too young or too old to improve your bone health. Osteoporosis has been called a “pediatric disease with geriatric consequences.” Adequate nutrition plays a significant role in bone health from before birth until later adult years. A healthy diet during pregnancy positively affects growth of the baby’s skeleton. Adequate intake of calcium, vitamin D, protein, and other micronutrients helps support good bone health by:
- increasing bone size and strength in children and adolescents, reaching genetically-determined peak bone mass generally around the mid-20s,
- avoiding premature bone loss and maintaining a healthy skeleton in adults, and
- preventing and treating osteoporosis in seniors.
Milk Means More for Bone Health.
- Dairy foods are an important source of essential nutrients for bone and overall health. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that “Nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods …” especially nutrient-dense foods. Dairy foods such as fat-free and low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are nutrient-dense foods that provide calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D (if fortified), protein, magnesium, and potassium, among other nutrients that work together to build and maintain healthy bones.
- Acknowledging the importance of dairy foods for bone health, especially for children and adolescents, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products for people nine years and older, 2.5 servings for four to eight year olds, and two servings for children ages two to three.
- Because Americans consume about two dairy servings per day on average, adding one more serving of dairy can meet recommendations for bone and overall health, as well as increase intakes of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. These three nutrients are of public health concern due to their low intake.
The Bottom Line. Regardless of whether you’re a toddler or a senior citizen, nutrition can make a difference to your bone health. Consuming dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese) as part of a healthful, well-balanced diet provides essential nutrients that are key to building and maintaining strong bones throughout life.