Bone Health: Fact or Fiction

Your body contains more than 200 bones. They support your muscles, protect your organs, and store most of the calcium your body needs to function properly. They’re also living tissue, constantly being repaired and rebuilt. Osteoporosis occurs when bones break down faster than they can be repaired, or when they’re thinned by poor nutrition or other factors. The condition increases the risk for falls and painful, debilitating fractures. While weak bones become more common as we age, osteoporosis is not an inevitable part of getting older. Understanding the facts about your bones can help you keep them strong for life.

1. I don’t need to be concerned about my bone health until I’m older.

FACT: Although osteoporosis mostly strikes older people, it can start at a younger age—making prevention important for everyone. For girls, peak bone-building years last until their early 20s. While genes determine some of our bone strength, lifestyle factors can account for as much as 50 percent. Healthy habits during childhood and adolescence can help build strong bones.

2. I’m a man, so I won’t get osteoporosis.

FACT: Weak bones aren’t just an issue for women. Early in life, men are often protected against osteoporosis because they have larger bones. But as men reach their 60s and 70s, their bones can become brittle and break. A man’s risk for osteoporosis increases as he gets older. Men should talk with their doctors about osteoporosis—especially if they notice a change in posture or have sudden back pain.

3. Drinking milk is the only way to build my bones.

FACT: One factor that has been tied to low bone mass, rapid bone loss, and fractures is a lack of calcium. Beyond dairy products, calcium can be found in foods such as dark green leafy veggies, baked beans, tofu, and fortified foods such as juices and cereals. The U.S. Surgeon General says most adults ages 18 to 50 need 1,000 mg of calcium a day. People older than age 50 need 1,200 mg daily. To absorb calcium well, your body needs vitamin D. You can get it from sunlight; from foods such as fortified milk, egg yolks, saltwater fish, and liver; and from supplements.

4. I won’t be able to exercise if I have osteoporosis.

FACT: If you have osteoporosis, the goal is to decrease pain, prevent fractures, and minimize further bone loss. And as part of your treatment plan, your physical therapist may suggest an increase in walking, other weight-bearing exercises, and strength training. Other common treatment methods include:

• Maintaining an appropriate body weight and getting enough calcium and vitamin D
• Minimizing caffeine and alcohol consumption; not smoking
• Taking measures to prevent falls (for example, building your core muscles, taking a balance class, installing hand railings in your home)

 5. If you’re lactose-intolerant, you can only get calcium from supplements.

FACT:  Lactose intolerance, in which the natural sugar in milk products causes belly pain, gas and bloating, is common. But not all dairy products are off-limits for those with the condition. Yogurt that has live cultures in it has very low levels of lactose. Similarly, aged cheeses have little or no lactose. Nondairy foods that can help supply calcium include dark leafy greens and calcium-fortified foods such as cereal and juice.

6. You can’t take calcium supplements if you have trouble swallowing pills.

FACT: Chewable supplements are an option. Calcium citrate is better absorbed than calcium carbonate, and calcium citrate supplements come in chewable form. Calcium gummies are an option too. They are very easy to take, provide an easily absorbed form of calcium that does not have to be taken with meals, and taste good.

7. It’s not a big deal if you forget to take your calcium supplements.

FACT: Your body needs to maintain a constant level of calcium to keep your bones strong and your muscles functioning. If you do not get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take some calcium from the bones in order to keep the blood calcium levels normal. That is why most of us require calcium supplements if we do not get the recommended 1,200 milligrams or more of calcium per day in our diet.

8. There’s an ‘ideal’ dose of vitamin D.

FACT:  Many adults are deficient in vitamin D, but experts debate the frequency and dose of supplementation. At this time, it is unclear what the ideal dose of vitamin D should be. Blood tests should prove that the deficiency is corrected, which can take several months. Vitamin D levels of 30 to 40 milligrams per deciliter are appropriate. Higher numbers can be OK, but a low number can be detrimental to bones and potentially cause bone loss.

9. Eating dairy and taking calcium are all that’s needed to prevent osteoporosis.

FACT:  You need to make healthy lifestyle choices too. That means avoiding excess alcohol, not smoking, keeping your weight in check and exercising regularly. Routine workouts — including walking and other weight-bearing exercises — will help maintain muscle and bone strength. Keeping your muscles strong will prevent falls which lead to broken bones.

10. You can’t get too much calcium.

FACT: Too much calcium is not a good thing. If your calcium levels are too high, stay off the calcium supplements. If you have persistently high calcium levels, don’t ignore them — seek an evaluation from an expert.

Facts taken from and