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Getting the 411 on Bone Health

Get the 411 on Bone Health, Cute Halloween ghost, skeleton, black cat, bones and cobweb

Did you know throughout life, you are continually losing and rebuilding bone tissue? It's true. Now, children do make new bone at a substantially greater rate than adults because much more bone is being built than lost during childhood and adolescence, as their bones are growing in both size and density. However, adults are still rebuilding bone tissue throughout their lifespan. Unfortunately, the rate at which adults' bodies can rebuild bone tissue gradually decreases with age, often leading to the development of osteoporosis.

An estimated 10 million people, ages 50 years and older, have osteoporosis, affecting people of all races, ethnicities, and sex.

Bone Anatomy

When looking at the outer layer of bone, it appears smooth and solid. However, if you were to look at a magnified view inside a bone, you would see that it is porous and has a honeycomb-like appearance. When more bone tissue is lost than rebuilt, the holes and spaces within the bones' honeycomb structure become larger, weakening the bone. When bones become weakened in this manner, you have either osteopenia or osteoporosis, depending upon the overall total bone mineral density.

Bone mineral density, or bone density, measures how many grams of calcium and other bone minerals are in a segment of bone. To determine your bone density, you would need to have a bone density test. Talk to your healthcare provider about your bone health concerns and assess your risk for low bone density.

What does Your Bone Density Score Mean?

Your bone density test results are reported using T-scores. This score shows how much your bone density is higher or lower than the bone density of a healthy 30-year old adult.

Bone Density Scores
Bone Density Score Diagnosis
Greater than -1 Health bone density
-1 to - 2.5 Osteopenia
Less than -2.5 Osteoporosis 

Why is bone density a concern?

Weakened bones are more susceptible to fractures and break easily, even from the mildest stresses, such as bending over or coughing.

Making healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent the onset of osteoporosis.

There is good news; you are never too young or too old to protect your bones. And you can improve your bone health at any age.

Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

  • All food and beverage choices impact your overall health. Therefore choose a variety of foods from the five food groups. Focus on consuming foods low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Be intentional about including a variety of vegetables from all of the vegetable subgroups; dark green, red, and orange, legumes (beans and peas), and starchy. The number of servings of vegetables needed each day for adults will vary between 2-3 cups/day based on your nutritional needs. These needs vary depending upon our age, activity level, and gender.

Get adequate calcium.

  • How much is enough calcium? The calcium recommendations for adult females aged 19-50 years is 1,000 mg/day and for those age 51 and older, 1,200 mg/day. For adult males aged 19-70 years of age, it is recommended they consume 1,000 mg/day, and for those older than age 70 years, 1,200 mg/day.
  • Sources: Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, are excellent sources of calcium. Collard and turnip greens, kale, canned salmon, and sardines are also good sources of calcium.
  • In addition to calcium being a critical component for bone health, it is also required for heart health, muscle, and nerve function. 

Get adequate Vitamin D.

  • Vitamin D is important because it is needed to help your body absorb calcium. And although important, it is sometimes difficult to get adequate amounts.
  • Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because our bodies make vitamin D when exposed to sunshine. However, sun exposure prematurely ages the skin and should be limited. And the use of sunscreen, although good for preventing harmful UV rays from damaging the skin, prevents skin from making vitamin D.
  • Only a few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and therefore vitamin D is added to many foods, such as dairy products, orange juice, cereals, and soymilk. Because it is challenging to get the entire amount of vitamin D from food alone, most people will need to take a vitamin D supplement to get the amount required for bone health.
  • The good news. If you are already taking a calcium supplement, you are likely getting additional vitamin D, as most calcium supplements contain vitamin D.
  • Check to see if your calcium supplement contains vitamin D and if not, consider purchasing one that does.

Limit sodium intake.

  • High sodium intake increases calcium excretion through the kidneys. If you already struggle to get adequate amounts of calcium in your diet, limiting the amount of sodium in your diet will help preserve the calcium you are consuming.



Meet the Author: Diane Reinhold, MPH, MS, RDN, is a University of Illinois Extension, Educator, Nutrition and Wellness, serving Jo Daviess, Stephenson & Winnebago Counties. Diane provides programming focused on chronic disease prevention and management and food safety.