By Angela Pirisi
BY 2020, ONE in two Americans over age 50
will have or be at high risk for developing
osteoporosis unless they start taking better
care of their bones, warns the latest U.S.
Surgeon General’s report on bone health and
Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens
bones and makes them easy to break. Ten
million Americans over 50 have osteoporosis,
and another 34 million are at risk.
“Most osteoporosis fractures themselves
do not cause death, but they are responsible
for serious disability, pain and suffering,” says
Dr. Susan M. Ott, a bone specialist at the
University of Washington. “After a hip fracture, many people who were independent
have trouble walking and must move to a
nursing home. Vertebral [spine] fractures
cause height loss, a disfiguring curve and may
cause some difficulty breathing.”
Who’s at risk?
Many factors can raise the risk of osteoporosis, including being female, menopause,
a small or thin build, a family history of fractures, being Caucasian or Asian, smoking,
excessive alcohol intake and taking some
medications. Moreover, aging itself reduces
bone density and weakens bones.
“Aging accounts for 0.5 to 1 percent bone
loss per year after age 60. And women can lose
1 to 3 percent bone mass per year for up to 10
years following menopause,” explains Kathy
TO FIND OUT more about bone health and
preventing osteoporosis, contact these
■ Osteoporosis and Related
Bone Diseases National Resource
Center / National Institute of Arthritis
and Musculoskeletal and Skin
Diseases, (202) 223-0344 or
1-800-624-BONE (2663); www.nih.gov
■ National Osteoporosis Foundation,
(202) 223-2226; www.nof.org
M. Shipp, a physical therapy specialist at Duke
University. Luckily, just as with retirement
savings, you can plan ahead to maximize how
much bone you have “in the bank.”
Reduce your risk
You reach your peak bone mass by age 20.
The good news, says Jeri W. Nieves, a nutrition and bone health expert at Columbia
University, is that healthy lifestyle choices promote bone building in youth and strengthen
bones in adulthood. A key way to reduce the
risk of developing osteoporosis is banking
enough calcium and vitamin D.
“Calcium helps to preserve bone mass at
any age,” explains Nieves. You need about 1,000
milligrams of calcium per day if you’re under
50, and 1,200 milligrams if you’re older. For
vitamin D, 200 to 600 IU [International Units]
daily is currently recommended, although
research suggests that many people may need
1,000 IU per day for optimal bone health.
Eat your calcium
Rich sources of calcium include milk,
leafy green vegetables, soybeans, canned
salmon or sardines with bones, yogurt and
cheese. Vitamin D is produced in the skin by
exposure to the sun, and is found in fatty fish
(e.g., mackerel, salmon) and fortified foods,
including milk and some brands of soy milk,
rice milk, orange juice, yogurt, breakfast cereals and energy bars. If you can’t meet your
daily requirements, ask your doctor about
Maintaining a healthy weight and staying
physically active are key factors, too. Being
underweight raises the risk of fractures and
“Exercise can help maintain bones even
into your 90s, and beyond, and it builds balance and coordination, which can help minimize the risk of falls and fractures,” says Shipp.
Adults need at least 30 minutes a day of exercise and kids need 60 minutes, emphasizing
weight-bearing or resistive exercise (e.g., walking, push-ups, weight training), which is best
for strengthening bones.
Check your bones
If you really want to know your chances
of developing osteoporosis, get a bone mineral density test, which measures bone density in different parts of the body, using
X-rays or sound waves. If results show low
bone density, your doctor can prescribe special calcium and vitamin D supplements, or
medications that help slow down bone loss
or increase bone mass. C
Angela Pirisi is a Hamilton, Ontario–based
writer who has covered health and nutrition
topics for many publications.
screening at Costco
COSTCO OFFERS FREE osteoporosis
screening clinics at select warehouses
throughout the year.
The procedure involves a simple
ultrasound test of the heel area to
measure bone density. The test takes
about a minute to complete and the
results are available immediately. No
radiation is used and the tests are
Bone density in the heel is an indicator of overall bone health. A Costco
pharmacist goes over the test results
with the member to determine risk
factors and whether more tests are
needed through a doctor.
To find out if a free screening clinic
is coming to your local warehouse, ask
at the pharmacy. The clinics are also
listed each month on The Connection’s
Special Events page. Reservations are
not required but are recommended and
can be made at the local pharmacy.