Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones. Normally, bones go through cycles where your body breaks down old bone and replaces it with healthy new bones. In osteoporosis you loose too much bone, or can not produce enough healthy replacement bone. As a result of this disease your bones can become weak and brittle, which can increase your risk of a break or fracture. Treatments vary depending on the severity of the disease, sex, and the age of the patient. Some of the more common treatments include:

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Taking calcium—either through diet or supplements—is a little like making deposits into a bone bank account. If you keep a healthy balance of this mineral, your body is able to build and maintain bone, which is a living, ever-changing tissue. Not only does calcium keep bones and teeth healthy, it also helps with clotting blood, sending signals between nerves, and regulating heart rhythms. 

But if you fail to make calcium “deposits,” your body starts to pull calcium out of your bones and “overdraws your account.” Worse than a painful overdraft fee, however, this calcium imbalance can cause porous, weakened bones. This condition is called osteoporosis. In the U.S., it affects 8 million women and 2 million men, resulting in 1.5 million fractures each year. 

How much calcium do you need? It varies, depending on your age. Your preteen or teen needs more. Banking calcium at this stage is really like making an early investment in “retirement.” The National Academy of Sciences recommends:

  • 1,300 mg/day for children ages 9–18
  • 1,000 mg/day for men and women ages 19–50
  • 1,200 mg/day for men and women ages 50 or older1,3

 Some guidelines suggest 1,500 mg for postmenopausal women who don’t take estrogen. That’s because—due to a loss of estrogen at menopause—women start to have bone loss earlier than men. 

If you take calcium supplements, it’s best to divide the dose. Take half in the morning and half at night. Let me know if you have questions about different types of calcium. I can also discuss any medications that might interfere with calcium absorption. And I can give you tips on how to handle any calcium side effects, such as constipation or indigestion. To limit side effects, be sure to take no more than 2,000 mg daily. 

Foods rich in calcium include dairy products, dark leafy greens, dried beans, nuts, and calcium-fortified foods, which may include orange juice, cereal, and bread. Some recent studies suggest that food sources of calcium may be better than supplements. Last year, a study reported on in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that participants who got most of their calcium from diet had better bone density than those who got most it from supplements. It’s too soon to know why, but it might have to do with better absorption or other food compounds that enhance bone health. 

What else can you do to prevent bone loss as you age? Try weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or running, and get enough vitamin D. This vitamin helps your body absorb calcium. To get enough of it, you can spend at least 15 minutes in the sun several times a week. You can also take supplements or get food sources of vitamin D—in salmon, tuna, or fortified milk, margarine, or cereal. Try to get 800 International Units (IU) daily, but no more than 2,000 IU, which can be toxic. 

Osteoporosis and Belly Fat

Do you recall reading that extra weight can protect your bones? If so, you probably thought, hey, great – at least it’s good for something.

Well, sorry, but researchers are now making somewhat of an 180-degree turn – or, at least when it comes to “spare tires.” It looks as though extra belly weight doesn’t only increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It may also increase your risk of osteoporosis.1 That’s the condition causing fragile, porous bones in about 10 million Americans and leading to more than 1.5 million fractures each year.1 

A Harvard study looked at 50 premenopausal women who had an average body mass index (BMI) of about 30, which is considered obese. It found that women who packed away more fat around their middles had lower bone mineral density, a set-up for fragile bones.1 

Researchers aren’t sure why this kind of fat hurts bones. But they do know that deep belly fat releases fatty acids into the liver. It also releases other substances and hormones that are hard on the heart and pancreas. It could be that similar changes are wreaking havoc with your bones, too.1

Now you’ve got one more reason to let loose of those love handles. That’s especially true if you are female, 65 or older, slender, Caucasian or Asian, or you have a family history of osteoporosis. These are other osteoporosis risk factors, but ones you can mostly control:

  • You have low estrogen.
  • You eat a diet low in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Your lifestyle is lacking in physical activity.
  • You smoke or drink too much alcohol.
  • You take certain medications, such as cortisone or chemotherapy.2

So how can you know if your belly is too big, and what can you do about it? Use a soft tape measure to check your waist. If you’re a woman and your waist measures 35 inches or more, it’s time to lose a little. (If you’re a man, that number is 40 inches or more.)3 Also use a BMI chart to help guide yourself into a healthy weight range (18.5–24.9).4       

The good news is that belly fat is often the first fat to go. That’s because it’s more metabolically active. 3  Other steps for banishing the big belly? For example, eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which fill you up faster, combined with proteins. Eat fewer refined foods like white rice or bread, which elevate your blood sugar, often leading to a faster deposit of fat. 3 

And, don’t forget the other side of the weight-loss equation: exercise. Extra crunches aren’t the answer, even though that might seem like a logical place to start. Instead, work up to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise like brisk walking a day, combined with regular resistance training to build calorie-burning muscles.5 


  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: “Tummy Fat May Threaten Women’s Bones.” http://www.healthfinder.gov/news/newsstory.aspx?docID=646693
  2. National Institutes of Health: “Osteoporosis Handout on Health.” http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/osteoporosis_hoh.asp?print=yes#4
  3. WebMD: “The Truth About Belly Fat.” http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-truth-about-belly-fat?page=3
  4. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: “Calculate Your Body Mass Index.” http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/
  5. Wycherley, T.P. et al. Diabetes Care. 2010. 33(5):969–76. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20150293