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Osteoporosis is a decrease in bone mineralization or bone density, which causes an increased risk for fractures. Osteoporosis causes 1.5 million hip fractures each year in the U.S., resulting in $13.8 billion in health care costs.

Calcium plays a role in decreasing the risk for osteoporosis by increasing bone density. It is important to consume adequate calcium while you are young (see table below), as your bones are able to take up calcium and other minerals to increase bone density until about age 30. After age 30, the reverse happens and minerals are lost at a higher rate, thus decreasing bone density and increasing the risk for osteoporosis.

This doesn’t mean that after age 30 you are doomed to develop osteoporosis. There are things you can do to prevent the development of osteoporosis and maintain bone density if you have osteoporosis.

Calcium: Calcium is used for many bodily functions, such as muscle contraction and relaxation, acid base balance, nerve function as well as bone and teeth formation. If you don’t consume enough calcium, your body will pull calcium out of the bone to facilitate these other functions, decreasing bone density. The table below shows the amount of calcium one needs during various life stages.

Life Stage Group

Calcium Goal (mg/day)

1-3 years


4-8 years


9-18 years


19-50 years


> 50 years


Pregnant/Lactating up to 18 years


19-50 years


Diagnosis of Osteoporosis


Like most nutrients, calcium is better absorbed from food sources, however, supplemental calcium can be helpful if it is difficult to consume adequate amounts from food. A variety of calcium supplements are available. The typical multivitamin with mineral contains 200-250 mg of calcium. Most women’s formula multivitamin with mineral have about 450 mg of calcium. Supplemental calcium can be obtained alone from chewable sources, such as Tums (350 mg) or Viactiv (500 mg), and from supplements that you swallow whole (500-600 mg). If you are taking more than one calcium supplement it is better to take them at separate times with food to enhance absorption.

Food Source & Serving

Calcium (mg)

Yogurt 1 cup


Milk (skim, low fat or whole) 1 cup


Cheese 1 ounce


Broccoli, cooked 1 cup


Bok Choy, cooked 1 cup


Calcium Fortified Orange Juice 1 cup


Tofu 4 ounces


Almonds, 2 ounces, 24 nuts


Black beans, 1 cup


Kidney beans, 1 cup


Vitamin D: Vitamin D is needed so your body can absorb calcium. Most dairy products are fortified with vitamin D. You do not necessarily need to consume foods with vitamin D as your body has the capacity to make vitamin D if your skin exposed to ultraviolet light (i.e. sunlight). Exposing your face, neck and arms to sunlight for 5-10 minutes a day should provide you with enough ultraviolet light to make vitamin D. People at greatest risk for vitamin D deficiency are those who don’t get regular sun exposure, such as those in northern or southern latitudes and those who are home bound or institutionalized.

Exercise: Weight bearing exercise, such as walking, running, lifting weight and dancing help to maintain and possibly increase bone density. The benefits to weight bearing exercise seem to occur in women only when estrogen levels are adequate. Therefore, young amenorrheic or menopausal women (women who are no longer getting a period) who are not taking hormone replacement therapy, weight bearing exercise does not have a beneficial effect.

Related Article: Nutrition for Older Americans 


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