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Luckily, I’ve never broken a bone. While I oddly believed, at about 10 years old, that it would be fun to wear a cast my friends could decorate with messages, there’s usually only one message a broken bone
would send to me today:

What is osteoporosis?

As simply put as possible, osteoporosis is a disease in which lack of bone density puts you at a high risk for fragility fractures. This means it could take very little trauma (say a fall from a standing height—or even less) to break your bones. You could even break a bone from a motion as simple as bending over to pick up a piece of paper.

Your risk of breaking a bone from osteoporosis is higher than your combined risk of breast
cancer, heart attack and stroke.

And your risk of breaking a hip from the disease is equal to your risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer combined. That’s scary stuff.

What’s even scarier is that osteoporosis is a silent disease, so you might not know you have it unless you break a bone. As with most diseases, your risk of getting osteoporosis depends on a number of controllable and uncontrollable factors.

Factors You Can’t Control

Just being a postmenopausal woman over 50 increases your risk. Add to this a family history of osteoporosis, being naturally small and thin, previous broken bones and height loss.

Factors You Can Control

Having an inactive lifestyle, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and being overweight increase your risk, as do insufficient calcium and vitamin D and not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Too much protein, sodium and caffeine also play a role.

How Much Calcium Do I Need?

The answer to this will depend on your age, sex and dietary history (are you a vegan or lactose intolerant, for example), so it’s wisest to consult your doctor about your risk factors and together you can develop a plan to protect your bones. Calcium, a mineral crucial to keeping us alive, does a great deal more than build bones when we’re younger and keep them healthy when we’re grown up. It helps blood to clot, nerves to send messages and muscles to contract.

Every day, we lose calcium through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine and feces, but our bodies cannot produce new calcium, so it’s important to try and get it from the foods we eat.

It’s also critical to know that your body will always maintain normal blood calcium at the expense of your bones, so if you don’t get enough calcium, your blood will rob the calcium from your bones, which (with our teeth) hold practically all of the calcium in our bodies, Generally, adults under age 50 need 1,000 mg of calcium from all sources every day and those over 50 need 1,200 mg.

Dairy and dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and broccoli, are excellent sources of calcium, as are certain nuts. One cup of Brazil nuts, for example, has 213 mg of calcium and one cup of almonds has 378 mg, which is more than one cup of milk, with 299 mg. Snacking on these nuts throughout the day can give you at least a quarter of your recommended daily calcium intake. If you don’t eat enough calcium-rich foods, you can take calcium supplements, but they aren’t absorbed as well as the food. Calcium supplements 600 mg or lower are absorbed best.

And What About Vitamin D?

A whopping 70 percent of us are Vitamin D deficient, in large part because we don’t get enough sun and only a limited number of foods provide it, including fatty fish like wild-caught mackerel, salmon and tuna. Vitamin D also is added to milk and to some brands of other dairy products, orange juice, soy milk and cereals. It’s difficult to get all the vitamin D you need from food alone, requiring most of us to take vitamin D supplements. Doctors recommends taking at least 1,000 to 2,000 iu of vitamin D3 a day. Although many calcium supplements contain vitamin D, it’s usually a very small dose.

You can find out if your vitamin D is low by asking your doctor to check your 25-hydroxy vitamin D count, which should be over 32 for bone health. Either vitamin D2 or D3 supplements are good for bone health.

Are you still at risk for osteoporosis if you exercise religiously, eat the proper foods, and don’t have nasty habits like smoking?

Although it’s necessary to do all those things to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it still might not be enough. Some of us might drink milk and exercise till the cows come home, and still rapidly lose bone, due to low estrogen levels or other risk factors, such as complications from medication or a family history of osteoporosis. Although you might be discouraged, don’t let it stop you from empowering yourself to see your doctor and protect your bones.

When should you start paying attention to your bones?

It might be okay to wait until you’re 65 to check your bone density, provided you didn’t stop your period till you were 58, drank lots of milk, exercised and had no female history of osteoporosis. But if you smoked, stopped your period early (let’s say, in your 40s), are very skinny, don’t exercise, and have other health concerns, you don’t want to wait until you’re 65. Doctors advise getting your bones checked at midlife and then again within two years of menopause, to assess whether or not you’re losing bone.

You don’t want to outlive your skeleton. Bone loss accelerates from four to seven years after menopause due to the loss of estrogen.

What is a bone density test and do you need one?

This painless test uses a machine to estimate the bone density in your hip, spine and sometimes other bones. It’s important that your bone scans be done on the same exact machine and that the person reading your bone scan is certified by the International Society of Clinical Bone Densitometrists.

A quick and easy way to help ensure your bone health

How simple it would be if we had to worry only about our bones, but we’ve got our hearts, minds, muscles, skin, and much more to keep healthy. Ensure, a brand that has been specifically addressing adult nutrition needs for over four decades, wants us to think of it as our own personal nutritionist.

Ensure Complete is “the best of Ensure in one simple choice for balanced nutrition and targeted bone support,” as well as support for our muscles, heart and immune system. You’ll be happy to know that it has 40 percent of our daily value for Vitamin D. It’s also an excellent source of plant-based, omega-3 fatty acid ALA for heart health.

While Ensure is not made to be our only source for bone health, Ensure Complete would be a terrific choice for an occasional breakfast, lunch or as a between-meal snack, when we’re on the run and know it’s a mistake to skip a proper meal. The shake comes in milk chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. For more great information on meeting your nutritional needs, join the Ensure community and Like it on Facebook.

Ensure partnered with bloggers such as me for its Ensure Active blogger program.
As part of this program, I received compensation for my time. Ensure believes that consumers and bloggers are free to form their own opinions and share them in their own words. Ensure’s policies align with WOMMA Ethics Code, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines and
social media engagement recommendations.

Note: Information for this article came from extensive FabOverFifty interviews with doctors at the renowned Cleveland Clinic and from the website of the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

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