Your bones grow and get stronger during childhood. This lasts through your 20s. After age 30, bone loss happens faster than bone building. The bone mass you reach before the age of 30 may define your bone health for the rest of your life.
Many factors can change the normal pattern of bone growth and loss. Some factors can’t be changed such as your genes. But, many others can such as the foods you eat. The earlier you take steps to improve your bone health the better.
Calcium is the key mineral for reaching peak bone mass. It also helps to prevent and treat osteoporosis. Calcium intakes for adults should fall between 1,000 and 1,200 mg per day. This changes based on your age.
There are ways to get more calcium. Eat foods such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, sardines, soy products, and collard greens. Many foods such as orange juice, breakfast bars, and cereals have calcium added. If you still aren’t getting enough, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.
High amounts of proteins, caffeine, and salt in your diet may lower calcium levels in some people. But this may not be as much of a problem in those who get enough of it.
Vitamin D is needed for bone health. Vitamin D helps with taking in calcium. Your skin makes vitamin D when you spend time in the sun. How much sunlight you need depends on where you live, the time of day, and your skin color.
Older adults and people who don’t spend a lot of time in the sun may have a harder time getting vitamin D. Most babies and young children in the US have enough vitamin D because it’s added to milk. During the teen years, dairy intake tends to drop so it’s harder to get enough. This also reflects how much calcium is taken in by the body.
Experts advise a daily intake of between 600 and 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D.
Peak bone mass is helped by regular physical activity. This is mainly true during the child or teen years. As you get older, it will help slow the drop in bone density.
Weight bearing and resistance exercises help the most. Walking, running, tennis, or hiking are all good for your bones. Strength training can help raise your bone density. This will keep your muscles strong. It will also lower your chances of having a fall.
Smokers have a higher risk of osteoporosis. Smoking and lower bone density are directly related.
Alcohol impedes how vitamin D is used in the body. This can lower how much calcium is taken in. It also rids the body of magnesium at a higher rate. Also, heavy drinkers tend to not get enough nutrition. This would include calcium and vitamin D.
Heavy drinking also affects your hormone levels. For women, it can cause menstrual problems. For men, it lowers how much testosterone is made. This can result in reduced bone formation.
Alcohol upsets your balance and how well you walk. This may cause you to stumble, trip, or run into objects. It can also lead to a higher risk of broken bones.
The link between caffeine use and bone health is not as clear-cut. Studies on the effect of caffeine on the bones have yielded mixed results. Limit caffeine to 2 cups of coffee or less a day.
If you’re at high risk, your doctor may advise:
These medicines carry some risk. Talk to your doctor about them.
A bone mineral density test (BMD) can detect bone density. It can also check your risk of breaking a bone. Keep in mind, symptoms are not usually present. Talk to your doctor about whether you need a BMD test.
Some medicines may increase your chances of osteoporosis:
Bisphosphonates for treatment and prevention of osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900139/Bisphosphonates-for-treatment-and-prevention-of-osteoporosis . Updated July 19, 2017. Accessed June 25, 2018.
Calcium and vitamin D for treatment and prevention of osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115372/Calcium-and-vitamin-D-for-treatment-and-prevention-of-osteoporosis . Updated May 24, 2018. Accessed June 25, 2018.
Hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) and osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114458/Hormonal-replacement-therapy-HRT-and-osteoporosis . Updated May 8, 2014. Accessed June 25, 2018.
Osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113815/Osteoporosis . Updated February 1, 2018. Accessed June 25, 2018.
Osteoporosis overview. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center website. Available at: https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/overview. Updated February 2017. Accessed June 25, 2018.
What women need to know. National Osteoporosis Foundation website. Available at: https://www.nof.org/preventing-fractures/general-facts/what-women-need-to-know. Accessed June 25, 2018.
Last reviewed May 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcie L. Sidman, MD
Last Updated: 6/25/2018