How to Prevent Osteoporosis

Three Methods:Eating WellMaking Good Lifestyle ChoicesUnderstanding Your Risk

It's not necessary to wait for an illness to manifest to start taking preventative action. Osteoporosis is a disease where your bones become weak and brittle. They may break more easily, especially the bones in the hips, spine, and wrist. As we age, our bones naturally become weaker, but osteoporosis speeds up that process.[1] There are some risk factors for osteoporosis, such as age and ethnicity, that you can’t change. Fortunately, there are many ways you can take action to help slow down bone loss and prevent osteoporosis.

Method 1
Eating Well

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    Consume more calcium. Getting sufficient calcium is the single most important thing you can do to grow healthy bones and maintain bone strength.[2] Many Americans, especially women, do not get enough calcium in their daily diets.[3] The recommended daily intake of calcium varies depending on your age and sex.[4]
    • Adult males under 70 should consume at least 1,000mg of calcium per day. Men over 70 should consume at least 1,200mg per day.
    • Adult females under 50 should consume at least 1,000mg of calcium per day. Women over 50 should consume at least 1,200mg per day. Pregnant or lactating women should consume at least 1,300mg of calcium daily.
    • Calcium is available in dietary supplements. The two main forms are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate should be taken with food. Calcium citrate can be helpful for those with inflammatory bowel disease or absorption disorders, as it does not require food.[5] If you get enough calcium from your diet, don’t take calcium supplements unless recommended by your doctor. Too much calcium may have unpleasant side effects, including the possibility of kidney stones.[6]
    • Magnesium is an important mineral for bone and overall body health. Foods rich in magnesium include whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables. However, magnesium competes with calcium for absorption, and if your calcium levels are already low it may cause a calcium deficiency. If you get enough calcium in your diet, you probably don’t have to worry about magnesium having a negative effect.[7]
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    Choose dietary sources of calcium. You're less likely to consume too much calcium if you get your daily intake from dietary sources. These sources may also be more easily absorbed by your body.[8]
    • Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are very rich sources of calcium.[9] Milk is often also enriched with vitamins A and D. Fortified soy milk also provides calcium, as do other calcium-fortified beverages like juice.
    • Vegetable sources rich in calcium include turnip greens, Chinese cabbage (bok choy), kale, and broccoli. Surprisingly, spinach is not as good a source of calcium, because its “bioavailability” (how the body extracts the nutrient) is low due to its oxalic acid content.[10]
    • Canned sardines are a good source of calcium because you eat the bones. Sardines are also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which promote things like brain health.[11] They contain vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium.
    • Many cereals are fortified with calcium. Choose whole-grain breakfast cereals that have been fortified with calcium and other nutrients and are low in sugar.
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    Consume more vitamin D. Vitamin D helps improve your body’s ability to absorb calcium, and is necessary for bone growth.[12] Men and women under 70 should get at least 600IU of vitamin D daily; people over 70 should increase this to 800IU daily.[13]
    • Vitamin D does not occur naturally in many foods. Fatty fish, such as swordfish, salmon, tuna, and mackerel are the best sources of natural vitamin D (and also provide omega-3 fatty acids). Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks contain small amounts of vitamin D.[14]
    • Milk is commonly fortified with vitamins A and D. Many beverages and cereals are also enriched with vitamin D.
    • You can check the nutritional content of many foods by consulting the USDA National Nutrient Database here.
    • Vitamin D is also available as a dietary supplement. It is available in two forms, D2 and D3. Both seem equally potent in regular doses, although D2 may be less potent in high doses. For people who live in areas with less sunshine or who have dark skin, taking higher doses of vitamin D supplements may be necessary.[15] It is rare to develop vitamin D toxicity through supplements.[16]
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    Watch your salt intake. Very high sodium consumption increases the amount of calcium excreted in your urine.[17] Aim to consume no more than 2,400mg of sodium per day.[18]
    • Canned and processed foods tend to be high in salt; look for “reduced sodium” or “no salt added” labels.
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    Be aware of phytates. Phytates, or phytic acid, interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium from the foods you eat. They’re commonly found in grains and legumes, such as wheat bran and beans, as well as nuts like hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, and cashews.[19] These foods are very good for you, so this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them. There are some things you can do to reduce the phytate level in the foods you eat.
    • Soak dried beans in water for several hours, then cook them in fresh water.[20]
    • If you eat 100% wheat bran, it should be consumed 2 or more hours before or after taking calcium supplements.
    • Fermentation and malting reduce phytate levels, so breads such as sourdough or other types that use fermented or malted grains pose no problems to calcium absorption.[21]
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    Get enough protein. Many older adults don’t get enough protein in their diets.[22] About 50% of your bone volume is made of protein.[23] Adult women should get at least 46 grams of protein daily, while adult men should get at least 56 grams daily.[24]
    • However, extremely high-protein diets such as the “Atkins diet” may be associated with increased risk of osteoporosis or bone fracture.[25][26] Some other studies indicate that high-protein diets don’t have any effect on bone health,[27] but it’s best to consume protein (and all things) in moderation. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially those high in potassium, to counteract any negative effects on calcium absorption from protein consumption.[28]
    • Protein sources that are also rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as fatty fish, are a smart choice.
    • Animal protein that is high in saturated fat, such as red meat and dairy, can cause health issues if over consumed .[29][30] Get your protein from a variety of sources, including lean meats, eggs, and vegetables and whole grains.
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    Limit your soft drink consumption. A common piece of osteoporosis lore is that soft drinks cause bone loss. Studies are not clear about the link between soft drinks and bone health, but caffeine in sodas and coffee may be associated with bone loss. Phosphorous, a common ingredient in some colas, may also have an effect. While these effects are not yet fully understood, it’s still a good idea to limit your soft drink consumption.[31][32]
    • Choose healthy beverages such as milk and calcium-fortified drinks more often. Limit your soft drink consumption to less than 2 cans (roughly 24 ounces) a day. Your overall caffeine intake should be less than 400mg per day.[33]
    • If you need a caffeine boost, black tea has not been shown to impact bone density.[34]

Method 2
Making Good Lifestyle Choices

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    Watch your alcohol consumption. Heavy drinking is unhealthy for many reasons, and it can cause bone loss.[35] Being intoxicated may also put you at a higher risk of breaking a bone.[36]
    • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that “low-risk” or “moderate” drinking is the safest way to avoid damage to your health from alcohol. This is defined as no more than 3 drinks on a given day, and no more than 7 per week for women. For men, it’s no more than 4 drinks on a given day, and no more than 14 per week.[37]
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    Get regular exercise. Regular exercise is crucial for maintaining bone health, as well as your overall health. People who are bedridden or spend most of the day sitting or otherwise inactive are at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis. People who get regular weight-bearing exercise in addition to daily activity have higher bone density on average.[38]
    • Exercises that require you to move your body weight around help promote bone growth. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.
    • Females reach peak bone mass earlier, and have a lower threshold, than males. Exercise is especially important for women.
    • The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommend activities like brisk walking, hiking, aerobics, tennis, and weight training to help build and maintain bone mass.[39] While fantastic for cardiovascular health, exercises such as swimming and biking don’t require you to move your body weight, so they’re not as good for building bone. Other activities that are good for your bones include:
      • Jogging (but not running, which can put too much pressure on your joints)
      • Heavy yard work and gardening
      • Team sports like basketball, baseball, and soccer
      • Dancing
      • Racquet sports like squash
      • Skiing and skating
      • Karate
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    Stop smoking. Smoking is harmful to every part of your body, including your bones. Smoking is associated with a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.[40][41][42] If you smoke, quitting quickly decreases your risk for many diseases.[43]
    • Don’t think that because you’ve smoked for years that you’re “too old” or the “damage is already done.” While it’s true that smoking can cause irreversible harm to your health, quitting produces immediate benefits, such as reducing your heart rate and blood pressure.[44] Your risk of heart attack can begin to drop within just 24 hours, with full effects within 1-2 years.[45] Your lungs can begin to return to their healthy state in just 1-9 months.[46] It’s never too late to quit.
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    Spend time outdoors. In addition to consuming vitamin D in foods, you can boost your vitamin D levels by spending time in the sunshine. Ultraviolet rays trigger vitamin D synthesis in your body.[47] Spending time outdoors getting exercise will also help promote bone health.
    • Use a sunscreen with a broad-spectrum SPF factor of at least 15 whenever you spend time outside.[48] You can usually spend about 5-15 minutes outside without sunscreen to get enough vitamin D and not increase your risk of skin cancer significantly.
    • People with higher levels of melanin in their skin have darker skin, and have less ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight.[49]
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    Prevent falls. Falls are a leading cause of bone breakage, especially among older adults.[50] You can take some actions to reduce your risk of falling, such as:[51]
    • Using a cane or walker if you need it
    • Wearing sturdy, rubber-soled non-slip shoes
    • Salting icy steps and walks
    • Keeping your home clutter-free
    • Keeping your home well-lit
    • Using a non-slip bath mat or rubber adhesives in the bath or shower
    • Increased alcohol consumption is also associated with a higher risk of falling. Consume alcohol in moderation.[52]

Method 3
Understanding Your Risk

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    Know what risk factors you can’t change. There are some risk factors for developing osteoporosis that you can’t do anything about. Studies suggest that the following groups are at a higher risk for osteoporosis:[53][54]
    • Women, especially post-menopausal women or women who have had hysterectomies
    • White and Asian people
    • Short or small-framed people, especially thin people
    • People with a family history of osteoporosis
    • Older people
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    Know what risk factors you can change. You can take the steps in this article to affect many of these risk factors. People have a higher risk of osteoporosis if they:[55][56]
    • Have anorexia nervosa
    • Don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D
    • Have low estrogen and/or testosterone levels
    • Use certain medications, such as corticosteroids
    • Don’t get enough weight-bearing activity
    • Smoke
    • Drink too much alcohol
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    Ask your doctor about your medications. Some medications, such as corticosteroids like prednisone, decrease your body’s absorption of calcium through the intestines.[57] If you have other risk factors for osteoporosis, speak with your doctor to determine a safe dosage.
    • Taking the lowest possible dose for the shorted time will decrease inflammation without increasing your risk of osteoporosis as much.
    • If you must continue to take corticosteroids or are otherwise at high-risk for osteoporosis, ask your doctor about medications that can help treat or prevent osteoporosis. Medications include ibandronate (Boniva), alendronate (Fosamax), risedronate sodium (Actonel), and zoledronic acid (Reclast).[58]
    • Hormones including estrogen products may also reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.
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    Get a bone density test.[59] A bone density test will check your bone strength by using X-rays, ultrasound, or tomography to determine the mineral levels in your bones.[60] It doesn’t hurt.[61] You should get a bone density test if your doctor recommends it or if:[62]
    • You are a woman aged 65 or older
    • You are a postmenopausal woman under 65 with risk factors for osteoporosis
    • You are man aged 70 or older
    • You are a man aged 50-69 with risk factors for osteoporosis
    • You have a medical condition associated with osteoporosis, such as autoimmune disorders or endocrine/hormonal disorders or have other reasons for being at high-risk for osteoporosis[63]


  • Ensure young children receive adequate calcium in line with dietary guidelines.
  • If choosing a milk alternative such as soy milk, rice milk or almond milk, ensure you are purchasing a fortified variety.
  • Eat adequate leafy greens. These are high in calcium and also vitamin K to aid absorption.


  • Don’t over consume calcium, especially supplements. Taken in excess, calcium can create kidney problems, aggravate arthritis, and cause muscle pain.

Sources and Citations

  3. Ervin RB, Wang C-Y, Wright JD, Kennedy-Stephenson J. Dietary intake of selected minerals for the United States population: 1999-2000. Advance Data from Vital and Health Statistics, number 341. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2004.

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Article Info

Categories: Back and Joint Care | Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating