Make No Bones about It; Calcium is Vital to Women’s Health

By Cmdr. Dixie Aune, WHNP, Specialty Leader for WHNP/CNM, Naval Hospital Beaufort

Cmdr. Dixie Aune, women's health nurse practitioner, provides care to women in Naval Hospital Beaufort's OB/Gyn clinic as well as for female recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in the 4th Recruit Training Battalion Aid Station. (U.S. Navy photo by Regena Kowitz/Released)

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, and it’s important to know that as women age, we are at increased risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones). In fact, about one in two women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. By 2020, half of all Americans over the age of 50 are expected to have low bone density or osteoporosis.  There are many reasons why people get osteoporosis, some of these include family history, smoking, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating habits, and taking certain medications.

Women can help prevent osteoporosis by getting enough calcium and vitamin D and doing regular weight-bearing exercise. After menopause, women should have a bone density test beginning at age 65 or earlier if you have one or more risk factors for osteoporosis.

Women’s bodies need 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium every day. This requirement increases to 1,200 (mg) at age 51. Of course, milk is a great source of calcium.  Just one serving of low-fat or fat-free milk (1 cup) has about 300 mg. You can find calcium in lots of other foods too, including:

  • calcium-fortified orange juice (300 mg)
  • low-fat or fat-free yogurt (up to 450 mg)
  • cheddar cheese (up to 300 mg)
  • salmon (up to 180 mg)
  • ready-to-eat calcium fortified cereals (up to 1,000 mg)
  • tofu (up to 250 mg)
  • sardines (up to 325 mg)

Our bones can’t do their job with calcium alone. They also need 600 international units (IU) of Vitamin D every day. Vitamin D actually helps bones use the calcium you get from the foods you eat.

Lots of foods have calcium, but vitamin D is harder to find.  Foods with vitamin D include:

  • Fortified milk (100 IU per 1-cup serving)
  • Canned tuna in oil (200 IU in a 3-ounce can)
  • Salmon (360 IU in a 3.5-ounce serving)
  • Fortified cereal (40 IU per serving)

Millions of women already have or are at risk of developing osteoporosis. What do I do to keep my bones as strong as they can be? I make sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D, I don’t smoke, I limit alcohol use, and I start most days of the week with a morning jog, which is a great weight-bearing exercise.

Osteoporosis is not just a problem for older women, and it’s important that we look out for our next generation too.  Up to 90 percent of peak bone mass is acquired by the age of 18 in girls.  This makes youth the best time to build strong bones that will last a lifetime.  As a mother, I do everything I can to make sure my daughter keeps her bones healthy too.  I ensure that she eats plenty of foods with calcium (1,300 mg of calcium daily) along with vitamin D, that she gets plenty of sunshine, and includes daily physical activity in her routine.

Now that women are living longer than ever, it’s important to ensure that we build and protect our bones to carry us through our lifetime.

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