Perhaps you want to know about other ways to strengthen your bones before going on bisphosphonates. Or maybe you already take these medications, but you want to see what else you can do to ensure that your bones are as strong as possible.
The National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC) -- a service of the Office on Women's Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- provides a number of tips on how women can strengthen their bones, decreasing their risk of osteoporosis. The good news is that for many women, the answer to stronger bones may be as simple as a few dietary and lifestyle changes.
1. Get Enough Calcium Each Day.
Since calcium is a major component of bones, getting enough in your diet is crucial to their strength. While calcium supplements are an option, most nutrition experts suggest that you should reach for food-based sources, such as dairy products and certain leafy greens, as much as possible.
Young women up to 18 years of age should aim for 1,300 mg of calcium daily -- just about the amount you would get out of a cup of fat-free yogurt, a couple of cups of fat-free milk and a serving of tofu with added calcium, according to USDA figures. Women 19-50 need less -- at least 1,000 mg per day -- but this requirement goes up again to 1,200 mg in women over 50. For women who can't get enough calcium in their diet, supplements are a good backup plan.
2. Get Enough Vitamin D Each Day.
Vitamin D is crucial, as it allows your body to absorb the calcium from the food you eat most effectively. In addition to the vitamin D you get from your diet, this nutrient is also produced in your skin when it is exposed to sunlight -- a fact that has earned it the name "the sunshine vitamin."
Fortified milk is a rich source of vitamin D, as are fish and eggs. As with calcium, Vitamin D can also be taken as a supplement if necessary, though food is considered the best source.
Your vitamin D intake is measured in international units (IU). Women age 19-50 should aim to get 200 IU of vitamin D daily, while women 51-70 should strive for 400 IU. Women older than 70 should get 600 IU each day. It may sound like a lot, but a 3 1/2 ounce serving of salmon will give you 360 IU. Adding two cups of milk, at 98 IU each, and two eggs, for 20 IU each should be enough for anyone in these age groups to fulfill their daily vitamin D needs, according to the National Institutes of Health Office on Dietary Supplements.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet.
While calcium and vitamin D are particularly important, it is important to remember that an overall healthy diet is equally crucial for maintaining strong bones. Other nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc and protein help build strong bones, too. Fortunately, milk has many of these nutrients. So do foods like lean meat, fish, green leafy vegetables, and oranges.
4. Get More Exercise.
Being more active puts a healthy strain on your skeletal system, which in turn encourages the development of stronger bones. Being active can help slow down bone loss, improve muscle strength to support your bones, and improve your balance, lessening the likelihood of falls and fractures.
A good way to get these benefits is to perform weight-bearing physical activity -- in other words, any activity in which your body works against gravity. Sure, you could hit the gym. But you don't necessarily have to pump iron to reap these rewards. Walking, dancing, climbing stairs and playing tennis can all accomplish the same goal. Likewise, you might want to try yoga and tai chi, which also have bone-sustaining moves.
5. Kick the Smoking Habit.
As if you needed another reason to stub out that cigarette: Smoking lowers the amount of estrogen in your body. Since estrogen is a hormone that can help slow bone loss, lower levels of it can lead to osteoporosis.
6. Drink Alcohol Moderately.
As with smoking, heavy drinking is a vice that can eventually take a toll on your bone strength. While research has shown some benefits of an occasional glass of wine, it's good to limit yourself to no more than one alcoholic drink per day. This is because alcohol can make it harder for your body to use the calcium you take in. Also, too much at one time can affect your balance and lead to falls.
7. Make Your Home Safe.
In addition to ensuring that your bones are strong, it may be worth it to accident-proof your home to reduce your chances of falling. One simple thing that goes a long way is to use a rubber bath mat in the shower or tub. Keep your floors free from clutter, and remove throw rugs on which you can trip. You may also want to make sure that you have grab bars in the bath or shower.
8. Think About Taking Medicines to Prevent or Treat Bone Loss.
For some women, medicines to prevent bone loss may be the right answer. Talk with your doctor or nurse about the risks and benefits of medicines for bone loss.