Healthy Bones

In developing countries, one of the most common childhood ailments is a bone disease called rickets. Children with rickets generally are deficient in vitamin D or the minerals calcium or phosphorus. Rickets leads to an increased tendency to suffer fractures, dental problems, muscle weakness, bow legs, skeletal deformities, poor growth, a misshapen skull, or other problems.

Another bone disease, one more common among adults and in the developed world, is osteoporosis. The name of the disease provides a description—bone weakness. People with osteoporosis, too, are prone to bone fractures. One-third of all women over age 50 will have a fracture as a result of osteoporosis, and that fracture is likely to be her first indication that she’s losing bone mass.

Here are some tips on keeping bone fragility at bay:

  • Get enough calcium. Calcium is in milk, and grocery-store shelves are replete with calcium-enriched food products. Vitamin D, which is found in some foods and in sunlight, is also helpful.
  • Quit smoking and cut back on alcohol. Both of these things can hasten the loss of bone mass.
  • Talk to a doctor about the effects on bone density of important medications, such as corticosteroids.
  • Get exercise. Exercise helps strengthen bones and protect against diminishment

A bone density test should be a part of regular checkups for both women and men over about 50, or who are on corticosteroid medications. Early intervention can be important, as osteoporosis often has no symptoms at first.

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