Although bone-weakening osteoporosis is quite common among older people,
it isn’t an inevitable part of aging. There’s a lot you can
do to shield your bones from this disease. Getting enough calcium and
vitamin D are two critical strategies for keeping bones strong.
King's Daughters orthopedic surgeon Felix H. Cheung, M.D., says older
people who take vitamin D seem to fall less often, probably due to better
muscle and nerve function.
Calcium is an important nutrient for building bone and slowing the pace
of bone loss. But it’s not a single magic bullet, and some scientists
suggest that too much calcium or dairy products may be unhealthy. Keep
in mind that in addition to calcium, there are other nutrients and foods
that help keep your bones strong — most importantly vitamin D, but
also vitamin K.
How much calcium? The recommended daily intake for calcium is 1,000 milligrams
a day for adults up through age 50 and 1,200 milligrams a day for people
ages 51 and older, when bone loss accelerates. With age, the intestines
absorb less calcium from the diet, and the kidneys seem to be less efficient
at conserving calcium. As a result, your body can steal calcium from bone
for a variety of important metabolic functions.
Ideally, you should get your calcium through dietary sources. Some research
suggests that getting too much calcium from supplements may increase the
risk of heart disease and prostate cancer. Therefore it’s best to
talk with your doctor if you think you need a calcium supplement.
Vitamin D is really not a vitamin. Vitamins are special nutrients that
the body needs but cannot make, so they must be obtained from what we
eat or by supplements. Because our bodies can make Vitamin D in our skin
when it is exposed to good sunlight, Vitamin D is considered a hormone.
Not many foods naturally contain Vitamin D — it is found in substantial
levels only in fish.
Some foods have Vitamin D added to them including milk. An 8-ounce glass
of milk provides only 100 international units of Vitamin D. Some other
foods, like breakfast cereal, are fortified, but at very low levels. Eggs
can have small amounts of Vitamin D if the chicken was fed the vitamin.
Other dairy products — such as yogurt and cheese — are typically
not fortified with Vitamin D.