Build Better Bones
Decrease your risk of osteoporosis now and feel better later in life

By James Rouse, ND

Healthy aging has become somewhat of an American obsession for almost anyone over the age of 20. Although healthy aging means many things to many people, I believe some of us focus too much on the external aspects of aging and overlook one of the most essential characteristics of well-being: bone health. Osteoporosis is a major health threat for more than 44 million Americans. Of the 10 million people currently estimated to have the disease in the United States, approximately 80 percent are women.

Osteoporosis is a skeletal disease that can strike at any age, although it usually occurs in people older than 50. The disease, whose name means "porous bone," is typified by depleted bone mass and structural wear and tear of bone tissue. This leads to bone weakness and an increased risk of fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one in two women and one in four men older than 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture. A fall or a strain causing a small fracture in the vertebra is usually the first indicator.

Fortunately, osteoporosis is preventable. Avoiding the disease involves not only taking adequate calcium, but also eliminating risk factors, such as tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, a sedentary lifestyle, and too much phosphorus.

Six steps to help prevent osteoporosis.

  1. Quit smoking.
  2. Do daily weight-bearing exercises.
  3. Eliminate caffeine or add milk to caffeinated drinks.
  4. Eat calcium-rich foods.
  5. Limit alcohol intake.
  6. Supplement with calcium (1,000 mg/day), magnesium (600 mg/day), vitamin D (400 IU/day), and vitamin K (10 mg/day).

The average person's intake of calcium is about 450 mg per day. To prevent osteoporosis, I usually recommend at least 1,000 mg of calcium daily; for those diagnosed with the disease, I recommend at least 1,500 mg each day. Because it's hard for most people to get that much in their diets, I suggest a high-quality calcium supplement. Efficient calcium absorption requires an acidic stomach environment. This is particularly true for calcium carbonate (oyster-shell calcium), one of the most widely available forms of calcium. Most of us are unaware of the status of our stomach acid, so it's wise to choose a more absorbable form of calcium, such as citrate or malate. An antacid is not a reliable calcium source because most antacids come in the less-absorbable carbonate form. The antacid also neutralizes the acid in your stomach that is essential for calcium absorption.

In addition to calcium, other key nutrients your bones need to be healthy include vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium, zinc, copper, and manganese. If you aren't receiving adequate sunlight or eating fatty fish, you may need to supplement with vitamin D, which aids in the absorption of calcium. Vitamin K helps regulate calcium and keep it in your bones. Magnesium can also make a noticeable difference in bone health.

Adding soy to your diet may also help your bones stay strong. Ipriflavone, a naturally occurring isoflavone, has been shown to increase bone density in people taking 600 mg a day. I also recommend a baseline bone scan at around age 40. Additionally, incorporating regular weight-bearing or resistance exercises, such as weight training, walking, running, and yoga, into your daily schedule has also proven to considerably decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis.

James Rouse, ND, is the creator of Optimum Wellness and The Fit Kitchen, seen weekly on NBC's KUSA television news.