Recent headlines have shed more light on the best ways to shore up your skeleton. Scan this roundup of the latest bone health news, and find out what it means for you.
Take Calcium, Live Longer!
A recent analysis found that women who took up to 1,000 mg a day of calcium were 22 percent less likely to die over a 10-year period than those who didn’t. This follows headlines suggesting that taking calcium supplements increases the risk of heart disease. What to believe?
Calcium has many benefits, but excess calcium may build up in plaque, contributing to hardening of the arteries, says registered dietitian Sonya Angelone, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But if your diet is low in calcium, taking a moderate amount is not associated with heart attacks,” she says.
The bottom line: “Enough is enough. More is not necessarily better,” adds Andrea Singer, MD, clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Aim for 1,200 mg of calcium per day from your diet (the best source, experts say) if you’re a woman age 51 and over. (Women 50 and under need 1,000 mg.) That’s about 8 oz. skim milk, 8 oz. yogurt, 2 oz. cheese and a serving or two of dark, leafy greens, nuts or beans, says Singer.
Vitamin D—Phenom, or Flop?
Vitamin D may help the body absorb calcium, but a study published in The Lancet found little evidence that D boosts bone density. Don’t stop taking it yet, though. “Bone mineral density is only one piece of the equation when it comes to reducing fractures,” Singer says. “There are a number of other studies that looked at outcomes—fractures and falls. And vitamin D at sufficient doses has been shown to reduce the risk for both.”
If you think you might be low in vitamin D—you always wear sunscreen, have very dark skin, are obese or elderly, for example—consider having your D level checked by your doctor, says Singer.
Bone Scans: Can You Skip Yours?
Experts recommend women start osteoporosis screenings at age 65 (sooner if they’re at high risk). But while Medicare and most insur- ance covers DXA scans every two years, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that scans taken at four-year intervals were unlikely to show significant changes in bone mass in people with healthy bones. Test frequency, though, should be based on your risk factors, the initial test’s findings and whether you’re being treated for osteoporosis.
Salt: Even Worse For Bones Than We Thought
The idea that too much salt is bad for bones is nothing new: High- salt diets may increase the excretion of calcium in the urine, and that calcium may come, in part, from your bones.
What is headline-worthy is the finding by Japanese researchers that a high-sodium diet ups the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women, even if they have optimal bone density levels.
The women in the study did take in more sodium than most Americans consume (we average about 3,300 mg per day), but this research underscores the importance of limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day (or 1,500 mg if you are over age 51 or have health issues like diabetes).
Ready to reform your diet? Take aim at the biggest offenders: processed foods, especially deli meats, pizza, soups, snack foods, and restaurant meals. Breads and rolls are other surprising sources.