In two recent studies, people who got an extra dose of calcium from food or pills didn’t prevent fractures. Some media reports twisted the message, with headlines like “Calcium from supplements or dairy doesn’t strengthen bones.” So we’re going to give you the big picture on making sure you get enough calcium absorption and other smart steps to protect your bone health.
The two new studies that triggered the confusing headlines looked at 59 studies of bone density involving 13,790 people over age 50 and at fractures in more than 45,000 people. Bumping up calcium intake increased bone density slightly in some and reduced breaks a little in others, but the researchers say the benefits were very small and boosted the risk for kidney stones for some.
That’s bad news if you’ve been counting on calcium alone to make sure you’re not among the one in four women and one in 20 men in North America with thinning bones. The truth is, bone and calcium are just part of the story. Calcium helps with blood pressure regulation, muscle function and the production of hormones; if you don’t have enough on board, your body borrows from the 99 percent stored in your skeleton. But strong bones need more than one mineral to stay tough.
Follow these five steps for all-around healthy bones, but don’t cross dairy, dairy alternatives or supplements off your shopping list.
▪ Add D. Aim for 1,000 IU daily of vitamin D-3, also known as cholecalciferol. It helps your body absorb and use calcium. Check your level, and make sure it’s over 30. We aim for 50 to 80.
▪ Don’t overdo calcium supplements. Start by looking at how much you get from food daily; every dairy serving provides around 300 mg; fortified cereals and juices double that. Whole-grain bread (or bread alternatives) and green, leafy veggies (half-cup of cooked spinach) deliver 60-120 mg per serving, too. Most women get about 625 mg a day from food, men about 810 mg. Aim for: 1,000 mg a day (from food) for women under age 51 and men under age 71; 1,200 mg a day from food after that. Fill in up to 600 mg you’re missing in your diet with a supplement. Don’t overdo it. Too much won’t help your bones and can raise kidney stone (and possibly prostate and breast cancer) risk.
▪ Avoid bone-robbers. Smoking, an overload of sodium, too much alcohol, cola and even caffeinated coffee can increase your risk for osteoporosis by robbing calcium from your body. Stick with one alcoholic drink a day for women, two for men. Say “no thanks” to soda, fast food, canned soup and jarred spaghetti sauce (read labels). Swedish scientists found that having four cups of coffee a day could increase risk for brittle-bone breaks by a whopping 20 percent. But adding 20 mg of calcium from food to your diet for each cup (say around a tablespoon of skim milk in a cup of coffee) erases the risk.
▪ Hit your protein target. Getting enough helps keep muscles and bones strong. Older adults need at least 20-25 grams at every meal. Get yours from nonfat Greek yogurt, 3 ounces of fish or skinless chicken breast, or a cup of red, black or navy beans.
▪ Stimulate bones with exercise. Like a never-ending highway repair project, cells inside your bones are constantly rebuilding the tough, microscopic structures that keep them strong. Good stress and weight-bearing exercises, such as walking or running up and down hills is great. So is strength training. In a recent University of Missouri study in men, 60 to 120 minutes of weightlifting or jumping exercises per week improved bone density after six months. (We recommend 40 jumps per day!)
For daily tips, go to IdahoStatesman.com and search: youdocs. Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.