June 25, 2008

Guard Your Daughters Against Bone Loss

By Amy Chapman, Kerrville Daily Times, Texas

Jun. 25--It is an important mineral for all of us, but teenage girls especially need to consume adequate amounts of calcium. Sadly, though, only one out of 10 teenage girls is doing so. This is important to know because adolescence provides a "window of opportunity" for a person to accrue maximum bone density.

The major concern is osteoporosis, a bone disease that typically occurs in the later years of one's life. It can be a debilitating condition that not only cripples but also can require around-the-clock care.

Known as a "silent" disease, bone loss first occurs without symptoms. Losing height often is the first sign. It also is important to note that more than half of women older than 65 have osteoporosis. However, it can occur at any age. Other factors can place a person at greater risk for the disease, too. Family history and ethnicity can impact a person's risk. So can body size. Women who have a small frame and are thin have a greater risk than those who are larger-boned.

If a teen accrues a lot of bone mass during the adolescent years, then she will have a stronger skeleton over her lifetime. Calcium stores in a person's bones may become depleted over time, making bones thin and weak. Bones in the hip, spine and wrist especially are prone to osteoporotic fractures.

Most risk factors for osteoporosis can be controlled. Diet is of paramount importance. Acquiring enough calcium and vitamin D results in strong, healthy bones. Physical activity, particularly weight-bearing exercises, also can help a person accrue bone mass. Activities such as walking, running, hiking, basketball or even tae kwon do can assist a person with maintaining a healthy bone mass.

Avoiding tobacco also can help. Smoking lowers estrogen levels and can cause women to enter menopause at an earlier age. This increases a person's chance for developing osteoporosis. Alcohol, too, can weaken bone strength -- even just one or two drinks per day.

The National Academy of Science Dietary Reference Intake for teenage girls is 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams daily. This means that our teenage youth should consume what is equivalent to four and a half cups of milk each day.

Some people have the idea that eating 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day is a challenge. However, in today's market many foods have extra calcium added to them. Orange juice, breakfast cereals, cereal bars and soy drinks are prime examples. Milk, yogurt and cheese are popular sources. Even broccoli and almonds can provide some calcium.

While it is possible to get too much calcium, this is not likely for most people. After all, even with the supplemented products on the market, most girls are consuming far less calcium than what their bodies require.

The other popular (and dangerous) myth is that dairy products cause excessive weight gain. Studies show that people who eat adequate amounts of calcium actually have a healthier diet and a better weight.

In fact, some of the hottest nutrition research in the last decade has demonstrated that consuming adequate amounts of calcium actually promotes weight loss. Research from the University of Tennessee has demonstrated that the "fat-burning machinery" in fat cells is turned on when a person is eating an adequate amount of calcium. It appears that the calcium that is stored in fat cells has a critical role in determining how fat is stored and utilized.

To learn more about calcium and girls' health, visit www.girlshealth.gov/bones.

Amy A. Chapman is a registered and licensed dietitian and can be contacted at aggiemama95(at)hotmail.com.


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