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Feature Articles: Health


knee joint x-rayBoning up on osteoporosis

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, nutrition and health education specialist in Barton County, University of Missouri Extension


Osteoporosis is a condition of gradually weakening, brittle bones. As bones lose calcium, they become more fragile and porous. Osteoporosis progresses slowly and silently. Most people don’t even realize they have it until they fracture a bone.


Osteoporosis is more common than people realize. About half of women and 13 percent of men over the age of 50 will have a fracture related to osteoporosis in their lifetime. Osteoporosis affects approximately 25 million people and causes more than 1.5 million fractures every year according to the American Dietetic Association's Calcium in Your Life book.


Some of the factors that put us at risk for osteoporosis are out of our control. These include gender, low body weight, race, age, family history and prolonged use of some medications. Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. Most women have less bone mass to start with and then they lose it faster as they get older. The hormone estrogen helps deposit calcium in bones but as estrogen production decreases, bone loss increases. People who are underweight likely have less bone mass than a person at a healthy weight. People of African descent have denser bones than do those of Northern European descent. Some of the medications linked to increased risk for osteoporosis include ongoing use of steroids, thyroid medication, and cortisone-like medications. Smoking and heavy alcohol drinking are risk factors for osteoporosis. Smoking promotes bone loss. Heavy drinking has been linked to weaker bones possibly because heavy drinkers often make poor food choices.

Often, there are no symptoms of osteoporosis until the first bone break occurs. Other possible symptoms include bone pain, brittle fingernails, dental problems such as heavy plaque, gum disease or loose teeth, and Dowager’s Hump. Dowager’s Hump is an outward curve of the vertebrae of the upper back. It is caused by compression of the front portion of the vertebrae that leads to bending of the spine which creates a hump on the upper back.

Regardless of your age, gender or body build, you can practice healthy habits to lessen your risk for osteoporosis. One thing that contributes to overall health as well as bone health is physical activity. Weight bearing activities such as walking and strength training trigger your body to deposit calcium in your bones which will make them more dense and stronger.

Calcium intake is important for bone health. Even a mild deficiency over time can affect bone density, increasing the risk for osteoporosis. Adults thru age 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. After age 50, 1,200 milligrams per day is recommended to maintain bone mass. Eight ounces of milk or yogurt or 1½ ounces of cheese provides approximately 300 milligrams of calcium.

People who have lactose intolerance can have a difficult time getting enough calcium in their diet. There are lactose-free milk products available that offer the same amount of calcium as regular milk. Other foods that are a good source of calcium include: one cup of white rice (267 mg), one cup cooked navy beans (258 mg), one cup of cole slaw (195 mg). Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, English walnuts, roasted soybeans, and peanuts all have around 400 mg of calcium per ½ cup.

Many people take calcium supplements. So, here is the short course on calcium supplements: Calcium phosphate, citrate or gluconate are better absorbed than calcium carbonate or oyster shell calcium. Taking any calcium supplement with food makes the calcium more available for use in the body. Calcium supplements are best absorbed in doses of 500 milligrams or less. Space doses throughout the day and take them with food.

If you suspect you have osteoporosis, talk to your doctor. Osteoporosis is diagnosed through blood and urine tests and x-ray type pictures that show your bone density.

Eating an overall healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise are good ways to prevent the development of osteoporosis. Enjoy that ice cold glass of milk or a creamy yogurt parfait after your morning walk. You are contributing to your bone health!



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Last update: Thursday, May 13, 2010