Bone thinning occurs as part of aging. After age 30, men and women begin to lose bone mass. If over time your bones thin so much that they become fragile and in danger of breaking, you have osteoporosis.
- You can slow bone loss and could even prevent osteoporosis by eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
- Calcium is found in many foods. These include dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. It's also in fortified orange juice and many vegetables.
- Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is especially critical for women in the first few years after menopause. During this time, bone mass is lost faster.
- If you do not get enough calcium and vitamin D from the foods you eat, talk to your doctor about how you can get the right amount. You may need to take supplements.
- If you have osteoporosis, it's important to get enough calcium and vitamin D and take prescribed medicine for the disease.
Many foods have lots of calcium.
Calcium is in foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Vegetables like broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage have calcium. You can get calcium if you eat the soft edible bones in canned sardines and canned salmon. Foods with added (fortified) calcium include some cereals, juices, soy drinks, and tofu. The food label will show how much calcium was added.
One good source of calcium is fat-free milk fortified with vitamin D. Four cups a day have about 1,200 mg of calcium. Other good sources include shrimp, blackstrap molasses, and almonds.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. It's in foods such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. It's also in cheese, egg yolks, and beef liver. You can also get vitamin D from fortified foods. These include milk, some cereals, orange juices, and yogurts. It's also in margarines and soy drinks.
Everyone who has osteoporosis should try to eat a diet rich in these nutrients. Some people may need to take a calcium supplement with vitamin D.
Types of calcium supplements include:
- Calcium carbonate. It is 40% elemental calcium.
- Calcium citrate. This is 21% elemental calcium. Calcium citrate is easier to digest than calcium carbonate. It also does not cause constipation as much as other types of calcium supplements.
- Calcium gluconate and calcium lactate. These have a low amount of elemental calcium.
You can get calcium supplements at most grocery stores and drugstores. They come in tablets, chewables, and capsules. Not all supplements contain the same amount of calcium or contain vitamin D. Read the label to see which one is best for you.
The amount of calcium and vitamin D that you need to take depends on your age, your health, and how much calcium you get from the foods you eat. Ask your doctor what is right for you. Be careful not to take more than you need.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Carla J. Herman MD, MPH - Geriatric Medicine