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Build Strong Bones Early To Evade Osteoporosis, Low Bone Mass Later

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by Taylor Wallace -

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by weakened and fragile bone tissue, leading to an increased chance of fracture, and is a far more prevalent and devastating disease than most people realize. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recently released new prevalence data estimating that approximately 9 million U.S. adults over the age of 50 have osteoporosis and more than 42.5 million adults have low bone mass, placing them at an increased risk for osteoporosis and broken bones.

While the popular belief is that osteoporosis is a disease that impacts older women, osteoporosis is in fact a disease that affects both genders. Actually, one in four men and one in two women will experience a bone break caused by osteoporosis in their lifetime, and currently, only 23 percent of older women who have suffered a fracture receive either a bone density scan and/or are put on an anti-osteoporosis therapy, which represents nearly an 80-percent care gap.

While these statistics seem bleak, there are ways to combat osteoporosis, and starting early is key. To offset the prevalence of this debilitating disease, consumers can start by developing smarter dietary and physical activity patterns early in life. Humans achieve what we know as “peak bone mass" or full genetic potential of the skeleton in their mid- to late 20s. Optimal dietary intakes of nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, among others, can lead to stronger bones earlier in life and thus prevent the onset of osteoporosis later in life. Imagine the difference in a structure originally made from wood versus one made from steel, and then consider which will stand the test of time. This is a good analogy for illustrating how the strongest bones will last the longest. Diet and physical activity patterns, including weight-bearing exercises, are essential to building a solid skeletal structure to withstand the aging process.

Unfortunately, intake of nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D are not optimal among Americans. A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed for the first time that low-income, overweight and/or obese minority populations may be at greater risk of calcium and vitamin D insufficiency (J Am Coll Nutr. 2013;32(5): in press). Adults who used supplemental calcium and vitamin D showed a statistically significant lower prevalence of insufficiency. This data suggests that age- and gender-specific supplementation and modest use of fortification with calcium and vitamin D may be warranted for targeting certain sub-populations, particularly older adults, teenagers, minorities, and those who are low income and overweight and/or obese.

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