What Is Your Calcium Intake?

Osteoporosis affects more than 28 million Americans; the majority (80 percent) are women, and 18 million more have a condition known as low bone mass, putting them at a greater risk of eventually developing osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is often associated with older women but in fact, it affects a great many younger women, too. A recent study from Columbia University found that 2 percent of the subjects aged 18 to 30 already had the bone-thinning disease, while 18 percent would most likely develop it.

Dr. Mallika Marshall from the CBS Boston affiliate WBZ-TV says the reason that many women shun dairy products is because they consider them to be fattening. But that's not necessarily true. Calcium can be obtained through low-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt and low-fat milk as well as other foods and supplements.

Women who think they are at risk of getting osteoporosis should see their physician who can perform a bone-density test. It's a very simple procedure, much like an X-ray where you lie flat on a table. The results are then interpreted.

The good news though is that, in many cases, osteoporosis can be prevented by simple lifestyle changes. The following are Dr. Marshall's tips to help you save your bones:

Increase Calcium Intake
The best place to get calcium is through dairy products, but there are many calcium-fortified products available, such as orange juice.

Examine Your Diet
There has been a lot in the news lately about protein/low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins Plan. While they may be effective at helping you lose weight, they could throw off the body's calcium balance. A recent study found diets like Atkins increase the bloods acidity. To compensate, the body pulls calcium from the bones.

Do Strengthening Exercises
A recent study found that low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling and exercise machines don't do much to prevent bone loss. Instead you'll want to try strength-training exercises, something that involves weights, to help strengthen your bones. You can jog, jump rope and do step aerobics

Change Your Contraceptive
The contraceptive Depo-Provera, which is injected every three months, suppresses ovulation. This, in turn, reduces the amount of estrogen in the system. Estrogen has been shown to prevent bone loss. Instead, switch to an oral contraceptive that contains estrogen. Of course, it is very important to weigh the risks of taking more estrogen. Past studies have linked breast cancer and estrogen.

Quit Smoking
Of course, we all know how bad smoking is for your lungs and your heart, but what most people don't know that it can lead to brittle bones. The exact cause isn't known, but scientists believe that smoking may lower estrogen levels.