The Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation (BHOF) is committed to educating all Americans that a diet including calcium and vitamin D is critical to building strong, healthy bones and helping to prevent osteoporosis.
Andrea J. Singer, M.D., FACP, CCD
Chief Medical Officer, Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation
Approximately 10 million Americans aged 50 and over have osteoporosis, and another 44 million have low bone density, placing them at an increased risk for bone breaks or fractures. Most people are not aware that fractures related to osteoporosis are not part of normal aging and are responsible for more hospitalizations than heart attacks, strokes, and breast cancer.
“Calcium and vitamin D are two essential nutrients necessary for building strong, dense bones when we’re young and for keeping them healthy as we age,” says Dr. Andrea Singer, BHOF’s chief medical officer. Calcium also enables our muscles to contract, our heart to beat, and nerves to send messages between the brain and other parts of the body. An estimated 99% of the calcium in our bodies is in the bones and teeth. Since our bodies do not produce calcium, it is an absolute must to get enough of this mineral by carefully selecting the foods we consume. When we don’t get sufficient amounts of calcium, it is taken from our bones, which may cause them to weaken. Vitamin D also plays an important role in protecting our bones, both by helping our bodies absorb calcium and by supporting the muscles needed to avoid falls. It is critical for children to get enough to help build strong bones, and adults need it to keep their bones dense and healthy. Without adequate vitamin D, we’re more likely to break bones as we age.
Food is the best source of calcium. Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, are high in this nutrient. Green vegetables, including broccoli and collard greens, along with beans like black-eyed peas, white beans, and soybeans, also are rich in calcium. Look for added calcium listed on labels of some juices, breakfast foods, soy milk, almond milk, bread, and cereals. If you’re not getting the recommended amount from food alone, you may need to complement your diet by taking multivitamins or supplements.
Sources of vitamin D
Our skin makes vitamin D with exposure to sunlight and stores it in fat for later use. How much vitamin D our skin can produce depends on time of day, season, latitude, skin pigmentation, age, and other factors. Regular, limited sun exposure is one way to get vitamin D. To maintain healthy blood levels, people generally require about 10-20 minutes of midday sunlight, several times per week. People with darker skin may need more than this. Your exposure time should depend on how sensitive your skin is to sunlight.
There are, however, many reasons people do not make enough vitamin D. As we age, our skin loses its ability to generate vitamin D. People who live in cities or in institutional settings like nursing homes spend too little time outdoors. Even those who do spend time outdoors — even for very short periods of time, as mentioned above — often use sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, which is important. Sunscreen with an SPF as low as 8 reduces vitamin D production by 95%.
Vitamin D is found in foods including fatty fish like wild-caught mackerel, salmon, and tuna. It’s also in herring, sardines, egg yolks, and mushrooms. Vitamin D is often added to milk and other dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and fortified cereals. Be sure to check the food label to see if vitamin D has been included in a particular product. It is very difficult to get all the vitamin D we need from food alone. Most people must take vitamin D supplements to get enough to support bone health. Please see the link below for recommendations on supplements.
BHOF’s calcium and vitamin D overview shares excellent information on the importance of these vital nutrients in addition to how much you need, what the best sources are, and details about supplements.
Visit www.bonehealthandosteoporosis.org for user-friendly information about bone health for people of all ages.