Public release date: 2-May-2011
Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
URBANA – Has a bone density scan placed you at risk for osteoporosis, leading your doctor to prescribe a widely advertised bone-building medication? Not so fast! A University of Illinois study finds that an effective first course of action is increasing dietary calcium and vitamin D or taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.
"For many people, prescription bone-building medicines should be a last resort," said Karen Chapman-Novakofski, a U of I professor of nutrition and co-author of a literature review published in a recent issue of Nutrients.
The study reported that adults who increase their intake of calcium and vitamin D usually increase bone mineral density and reduce the risk for hip fracture significantly. These results were often accomplished through supplements, but food is also a good source of these nutrients, she said.
"I suspect that many doctors reach for their prescription pads because they believe it's unlikely that people will change their diets," she noted.
The scientist said that prescription bone-building medications are expensive, and many have side effects, including ironically an increase in hip fractures and jaw necrosis. They should be used only if diet and supplements don't do the trick.
"Following a low-sodium diet does seem to have a positive effect on bone density. Some people have the habit of adding a generous sprinkle of salt to most foods before eating, but there's more involved here than learning not to do that. You have to choose different foods," Plawecki said.
Smoked or processed meats, bacon, lunch meat, and processed foods all contain a lot of sodium and could sabotage bone health. "Cheese is also very high in sodium so try to get your calcium some other way more often," Plawecki said.
She recommends a "portfolio diet" that contains a number of nutrients, not just extra calcium and vitamin D. For bone health, the researchers also encourage consuming adequate protein, less sodium, and more magnesium and potassium.
"That can be done by following a diet that's high in fruits and vegetables, has adequate calcium and protein, and is light on salt," she said.
Chapman-Novakofski noted that the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends more physical activity. She suggests a combination of aerobic, strength, balance, and flexibility exercises with a focus on improving your core muscles so you can catch yourself if you start to fall.
Whatever sort of exercise you're doing, you have to introduce new forms of activity every so often because your bones will stop responding to the same old routine and rebuilding will slow, she said.