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How Does Diet Affect Osteoporosis Risk?

Nutrition FAQ

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Updated February 09, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Osteoporosis is a health condition in which your bones have become weak. There are a number of risk factors including gender (occurs more often in women), age (more likely to happen when you're older), and body size (smaller and thinner people are at a greater risk). Family history and ethnicity are important, too - it's more common in Caucasians and Asians. But your diet can also impact your risk.

Will drinking milk decrease my risk for osteoporosis?

Probably. Milk and other dairy products are rich in calcium. Most people don't get enough dietary calcium, so adding a serving or two of milk or yogurt to your diet. Other dairy products include sour cream, cream cheese or regular cheese.

Choose low-fat or non-fat milk and dairy products whenever possible to avoid extra calories and saturated fat.

Some people believe drinking milk will rob calcium from your bones because it causes an acidic state in the body, but this isn't true (learn more about acid-alkaline diets).

I don't like milk, how can I get enough calcium?

You can take calcium supplements, or consume foods that have added calcium such as calcium-fortified orange juice or breakfast cereal. Canned salmon with bones is a good natural non-dairy source of calcium, and most dark green vegetables contain some calcium. If you decide to take supplements, be sure to follow the dosage directions on the label or speak to your health provider about how much to take.

What other foods might help prevent osteoporosis?

Dark green and leafy vegetables contain some calcium and they're also good sources of vitamin K, which is important for healthy bones. Nuts, seeds and whole grains offer magnesium, which is another mineral needed for strong bones.

Should I take magnesium or vitamin K supplements, too?

Probably not. You're better off getting these nutrients from foods. Studies don't indicate that taking magnesium or vitamin K in supplemental form will enhance your bone health (did you know there's more than one form of vitamin K?). Plus most foods that are rich in vitamin K and magnesium are also good for your health.

What about vitamin D - how does that help?

Vitamin D helps your intestinal tract absorb calcium from foods and dietary supplements. Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. There aren't many foods that naturally contain it, other than fish oil, but milk is fortified with vitamin D. It's also available as a dietary supplement, either alone or in combination with calcium.

Should I avoid sodium?

Maybe. Excess sodium increases the amount of calcium excreted in your urine. Following a DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension) may reduce bone loss. But it's not clear if the effect is due to eating less sodium or consuming more potassium, which protects bones from calcium loss.

Will eating more protein increase my risk for osteoporosis?

Probably not. Some people believe that eating large amounts of protein (especially animal protein) will cause your body to release calcium from your bones. But research studies indicate dietary protein also increases calcium absorption, which appears to negate any calcium losses.

You probably don't need to increase your protein intake since most people get a sufficient amount from the diet, but eating more protein won't hurt your bones.

Is drinking soft drinks bad for my bones?

Probably not. Observational studies show a correlation between high intakes of soft drinks and an elevated risk for osteoporosis. Some people fear it may be due to caffeine or phosphoric acid found in some soft drinks such as carbonated cola, but it's more likely due to people drinking soft drinks instead of milk. It's important to note, however, that while they may not be bad for your bones, soft drinks don't have any health benefits, either.

Sources

Ha EJ, Caine-Bish N, Holloman C, Lowry-Gordon K. "Evaluation of effectiveness of class-based nutrition intervention on changes in soft drink and milk consumption among young adults." Nutr J. 2009 Oct 26;8:50.

Heaney RP, "Role of dietary sodium in osteoporosis." J Am Coll Nutr June 2006 vol. 25 no. suppl 3.

Jesudason D, Clifton P. "The interaction between dietary protein and bone health." J Bone Miner Metab. 2011 Jan;29(1):1-14.

Kerstetter JE, Kenny AM, Insogna KL. "Dietary protein and skeletal health: a review of recent human research." Curr Opin Lipidol. 2011 Feb;22(1):16-20.

Lin PH, Ginty F, Appel LJ, Aickin M, Bohannon A, Garnero P, Barclay D, Svetkey LP. "The DASH diet and sodium reduction improve markers of bone turnover and calcium metabolism in adults." J Nutr. 2003 Oct;133(10):3130-6.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. "What is Osteoporosis?" Accessed January 24, 2012. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/osteoporosis_ff.asp.

Office of Dietary Supplements. "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium." Accessed January 24, 2012. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/.

Office of Dietary Supplements. "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Magnesium." Accessed January 24, 2012. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/.

Office of Dietary Supplements. "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D." Accessed January 24, 2012. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/.

Shea MK, Booth SL. "Update on the role of vitamin K in skeletal health." Nutr Rev. 2008 Oct;66(10):549-57.

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