The Vitamin D-Osteoporosis Connection
Chances are, you know you need calcium to maintain healthy bones. But what you may not realize is just how important vitamin D is when it comes to protecting your bones. This is especially true for people with the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis and its precursor, osteopenia.
When you have osteoporosis, you lose bone more quickly than it is replaced. Even a minor fall can result in a broken bone. Each year, 1.5 million fractures in the U.S.—including fractures of the spine, hip, and wrist—are caused by osteoporosis.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Although osteoporosis can affect men and women, it primarily afflicts women, particularly after menopause when women lose estrogen, the hormone that helps the body maintain bone density.
Other factors include:
- Having had a fracture as an adult
- Being thin
- Family history of osteoporosis
- An inactive lifestyle
- Having used steroids for a long period of time
Vitamin D and Osteoporosis
More than 75% of post-menopausal women suffer from vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from food, and plays a role both in forming and maintaining strong bones. Studies suggest that people who get enough vitamin D and calcium in their diets can slow bone mineral loss, helping prevent osteoporosis.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin D is:
- 600 International Units (IU) daily for people 1-70 years of age
- 800 IU daily for people 71 years and older
Testing for Osteoporosis with a DXA Scan
Osteoporosis doesn’t usually have symptoms until you unexpectedly break a bone. That’s why if you’re over age 65—or over age 50 with a previous bone fracture or risk factors for osteoporosis—you should talk with your doctors about getting a DXA scan.
A DXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) scan is a bone density test that measures the mineral content of your bones. The painless test determines the strength of your bones and your risk for osteoporosis.
You’ll get a result that indicates whether your bones are normal, have low bone mass (a condition known as osteopenia), or are significantly below normal, which is osteoporosis.
Your doctor will use the information to decide what treatment, if any, you may need and what preventive steps you can take. In addition to getting enough calcium and vitamin D, this may include regular exercise, limiting alcohol, not smoking, and eating a diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables.
You can learn more about bone health at LGHealth.org/BoneHealth.