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Bone Health for Life
Easy-to-Read Information for Patients and Families

January 2008

Information Boxes

Why Does Bone Health Matter?

Our bones support us and allow us to move. They protect our brain, heart, and other organs from injury. Our bones also store minerals such as calcium and phosphorous, which help keep our bones strong, and release them into the body when we need them for other uses.

There are many things we can do to keep our bones healthy and strong. Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, getting plenty of exercise, and having good health habits help keep our bones healthy.

But if we don't eat right and don't get enough of the right kinds of exercise, our bones can become weak and even break. Broken bones and fractures can be painful and sometimes need surgery to heal. They can also cause long-lasting health problems.

But the good news is that it is never too late to take care of your bones.

What Is Osteoporosis?

There are many kinds of bone diseases. The most common one is osteoporosis (AH-stee-oh-por-OH-sis). With osteoporosis, our bones become weak and are more likely to break. People with osteoporosis most often break bones in the wrist, spine, and hip.

Our bones are alive. Every day, our body breaks down old bone and puts new bone in its place. As we get older, our bones break down more bone than they put back. It is normal to lose some bone as we age. But, if we do not take steps to keep our bones healthy, we can lose too much bone and get osteoporosis.

Many people have weak bones and don't even know it. That's because bone loss often happens over a long period of time and doesn't hurt. For many people, a broken bone is the first sign that they have osteoporosis.

People with osteoporosis most often break bones in the wrist, spine, and hip.

Who Gets Osteoporosis?

There are many things that can increase your chances of getting osteoporosis. These things are called "risk factors." Some risk factors are things you can control, and some things are outside of your control.

Risk factors you can control

Risk factors you cannot control

Am I Really at Risk?

Because more women get osteoporosis than men, many men think they are not at risk for the disease. Many Hispanic and African American women are not concerned about their bones either. They believe that osteoporosis is only a problem for white women. However, it is a real risk for older men and women from all backgrounds.

Also, people from certain ethnic backgrounds may be more likely to have other health problems that increase their risk for bone loss. If you have one of the following health problems, talk to your doctor about your bone health:

How Do I Know if I Have Osteoporosis?

Since osteoporosis does not have any symptoms until a bone breaks, it is important to talk to your doctor about your bone health. If your doctor feels that you are at risk for osteoporosis, he or she may order a bone density test. A bone density test measures how strong -- or dense -- your bones are and whether you have osteoporosis. It can also tell you what your chances are of breaking a bone. Bone density tests are quick, safe, and painless.

What Can I Do to Make My Bones Healthier?

It is never too early or too late to take care of your bones. The following steps can help you improve your bone health:

Sources of Calcium

  • Tofu (calcium fortified)
  • Soy milk (calcium fortified)
  • Green leafy vegetables (e.g., broccoli, brussels sprouts, mustard greens, kale)
  • Chinese cabbage or bok choy
  • Beans/legumes
  • Tortillas
  • Sardines/salmon with edible bones
  • Shrimp
  • Orange juice (calcium fortified)
  • Pizza
  • Bread
  • Nuts/almonds
  • Dairy products (e.g., milk, cheese, yogurt)

Calcium Chart

Your Age How Much Calcium You Need Each Day
0 to 6 months 210 mg
7 to 12 months 270 mg
1 to 3 years 500 mg
4 to 8 years 800 mg
9 to 18 years 1,300 mg
19 to 50 years 1,000 mg
Over 50 years 1,200 mg

Vitamin D Chart

Your Age How Much Vitamin D You Need Each Day
0 to 50 years 200 IU
51 to 70 years 400 IU
Over 70 years 600 IU

Will I Need to Take Medicine for My Bones?

There are medicines to help prevent and treat osteoporosis. Your doctor may want you to take medicine if your bone density test shows that your bones are weak and that you have a good chance of breaking a bone in the future. Your doctor is more likely to order medicine if you have other health concerns that increase your risk for breaking a bone, such as a tendency to fall or a low body weight.

How Can I Join a Research Study?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducts research studies all over the country in which people take part as volunteers. These studies help uncover new risk factors and treatments for osteoporosis and other diseases.

There are many benefits to being part of a research study, such as getting related medical care at no charge and, in some cases, help with travel and other costs. Also, study volunteers are seen by a team of experts and are often among the first to receive new treatments ahead of the general public. Many volunteers take part in the research simply because they want to help others with the same disease, both today and in the future.

You can learn more about joining an osteoporosis research study by going to the Web site www.ClinicalTrials.gov.

Where Else Can I Go for Help?

For more information on osteoporosis and bone health, contact any of the following organizations:

For Your Information

This publication contains information about medications used to treat the health condition discussed here. When this fact sheet was printed, we included the most up-to-date (accurate) information available. Occasionally, new information on medication is released.

For updates and for any questions about any medications you are taking, please contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Toll Free: 888-INFO-FDA (888-463-6332)
Website: www.fda.gov/

This booklet is not copyrighted. You can make copies of it and give out as many as you want.

Additional copies of this booklet are available from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, NIAMS/National Institutes of Health, 1 AMS Circle, Bethesda, MD 20892-3675, and on the NIAMS Web site at www.niams.nih.gov.

NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center

2 AMS Circle
Bethesda,  MD 20892-3676
Phone: 202-223-0344
Toll Free: 800-624-BONE
TTY: 202-466-4315
Fax: 202-293-2356
Email: NIAMSBoneInfo@mail.nih.gov
Website: www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/bone/default.asp

The NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center provides patients, health professionals, and the public with an important link to resources and information on metabolic bone diseases. The mission of NIH ORBD~NRC is to expand awareness and enhance knowledge and understanding of the prevention, early detection, and treatment of these diseases as well as strategies for coping with them.

The NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center is supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases with contributions from:




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