Obtaining the right nutrients is one of the best ways toward achieving a life of healthier bones. Most people probably think of calcium when they think of their diet and bone health. But, believe it or not, vitamin D is just as important. In fact, proper vitamin D intake can prevent bone diseases such as osteoporosis.
Of course, this is not to suggest that vitamin D is better for your bones than calcium. Instead, it’s more like both substances act as vital partners that lean on one another to achieve optimal results. At its most basic level, calcium helps the body to build and maintain strong bones. Vitamin D, on the other hand, helps the body to absorb calcium. Therefore, ingesting adequate calcium without receiving enough vitamin D is essentially a fruitless endeavor and vice versa.
Your Bones & Calcium
To understand how vitamin D benefits the body, it is important to have a basic understanding of how calcium does the same. Really, all you need to know is that calcium makes your bones stronger.
Throughout the entire body, the bones make up 99.5% of calcium therein. Luckily, you are probably already getting all of the calcium you need if you eat a relatively normal diet. Here are a few examples of calcium-rich foods:
- Milk (preferably not whole)
- Yogurt (preferably low fat)
- Calcium-fortified juices
- Calcium-fortified cereals
As with anything diet-related, your ideal intake values will vary based on a large number of factors. Anything from your age, height, weight, gender, pre-existing conditions, and more can affect just how much calcium your body requires. To find out what your ideal intake values are, perform a quick google search for a dietary calculator that requires you to enter in these factors before making the final calculation.
However, out of all these factors, your gender is probably the most important. In fact, most girls do not receive enough calcium in their diets after age 11. Furthermore, many women of all ages in the U.S. simply do not intake enough calcium. Many endocrinologists encourage women across the country to take calcium supplements daily. If you have a predisposition to kidney problems or kidney stones, talk to your doctor before taking calcium supplements to see if they are right for you.
Your Bones & Vitamin D
Whereas calcium makes your bones stronger, vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium efficiently. It’s a pretty good system. The main source of vitamin D for most people is actually obtained from sunlight. Of course, this is a double-edged sword. Staying out in the sun without proper skin protection also increases your chances of developing skin cancer. If you are worried about this complication, consider obtaining your vitamin D from these excellent sources:
- Egg yolks
- Fatty fish
- Vitamin D-fortified milk
Again, you may wish to consider taking a daily multivitamin or vitamin D supplement if you believe you are not receiving enough vitamin D. Unlike calcium supplements, vitamin D supplements do not contain oxalate so you do not have to worry if you have a history of developing kidney stones. You still may wish to ask your doctor if they are right for you, but generally, multivitamins are safe for just about everyone.
Again, your ideal intake values will depend on a variety of factors. That being said, there are nifty calculators and general guidelines all over the internet. In fact, here’s some data from the National Osteoporosis Foundation for recommended daily calcium and vitamin D intake levels:
- Ages 1-3: 500 mg Calcium and 400 IU vitamin D
- 4-8: 800 mg Calcium and 400 IU vitamin D
- 9-18: 1300 mg Calcium and 400 IU vitamin D
- 19-49: 1000 mg Calcium and 400-800 IU vitamin D
- Over 50: 1200 mg Calcium and 800-1000 IU vitamin D
This is just a general guideline. Obviously, these values will change based on health-related factors (e.g. gender, health problems, pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc.).
One of the main conditions that vitamin D and calcium consumption prevents is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease that causes bones to weaken and become brittle. In fact, bones can become so brittle that they collapse. Further still, sometimes the most mild stressors such as coughing may cause a fracture in patients with osteoporosis. These fractures most commonly occur in the hip, spine, or wrists.
Bone is living tissue which the body constantly replaces as we age. In patients with osteoporosis, the creation of new bone does not keep up with the removal of the old.
Osteoporosis affects all men and women, no matter their race. That being said, Caucasian and Asian women (particularly the elderly) who are past menopause are at the highest risk for developing the condition. Doctors typically treat osteoporosis with a healthy diet (vitamin D and calcium), medications, and weight-bearing exercises.
Symptoms of osteoporosis include:
- Loss of height with time
- Improper posture
- Bone fractures occur more easily than they should normally
- Back pain
It is important to note that these symptoms will not manifest in the early stages of the disease. They will only occur after osteoporosis has already weakened the bones.
Compression Fracture Prevention
It makes sense that if vitamin D and calcium prevents osteoporosis, it also prevents compression fractures in turn. However, some bone degeneration is simply a natural part of the aging process. If you’re nearing 60 years old, you may have tiny cracks in the vertebrae of your spine. When these hairline fractures accumulate, they may eventually lead to a vertebral collapse, which doctors refer to as a spinal compression fracture.
Soft, degenerated bones are always at the core of the problem. When bones become brittle, the vertebrae are not strong enough to support the spine through everyday wear and tear. So, when you bend to lift an object, slip, or miss a step, you put your bones at a higher risk for fracture. If osteoporosis accompanies this, even coughing or sneezing may lead to compression fractures.
After a number of these fractures, the strength and shape of the spine begins to change. This may lead to the patient’s height decreasing over time. Most of these injuries affect the front of the vertebra. Once enough of these fractures accumulate, the front of the bone will collapse. This creates a wedge-shaped vertebra, which results in a condition known as kyphosis or dowager’s hump.
If you are having bone problems such as osteoporosis or compression fractures, please contact us at (973) 538-0900. The Advanced Spine Center is a multi-disciplinary practice with a team of specially-trained, certified doctors who are passionate about finding the right treatment plan for you. It is our mission to find the best solutions for everyone who walks through our door. We know that no two patients are the same, and every case must be treated based on the unique circumstances of the individual.