Build Strong, Healthy Bones -- It’s Never Too Early to Start!

SupplementBy Brenda Kearns

Recent studies show that high doses of supplemental calcium - 1,200 milligrams or more daily -- can clog arteries and raise your heart disease risk 30 percent. Instead, try these smart and safe ways to keep your bones break-resistant.

Dare to Dairy

Women with the strongest bones are the ones who get at least half of their calcium (roughly 600 milligrams daily) in the form of food, say University of Auckland researchers. Meeting that mark is surprisingly easy -- you get 300 milligrams for every cup of yogurt or milk, 1-1/2 cups of cottage cheese or 1-1/2 ounces of hard cheese you eat. If your belly gets riled when you dig into dairy, start small (by adding 2 ounces per meal) and gradually build up your daily dose. In a study at Purdue University in Indiana, lactose-intolerant women who tried this trick were enjoying a dairy-rich, without belly backlash, within two months. You can train your digestive tract to break down dairy properly. You just can't randomly hit it with a huge dose of dairy and expect it to adjust, explains Michael B. Zemel, Ph.D., director of the Nutrition Institute at Knoxville's University of Tennessee.

Supplement Smartly

Calcium supplements can protect your bones without raising your risk of heart disease as long as you follow a few simple safety rules. First, limit yourself to 600 to 700 milligrams daily -- that's the dose that builds bone strength, without damaging the lining of arteries, say Swedish researchers. Also, always pair calcium pills with food so they'll be absorbed at a slow, steady rate. "The artery damage occurs when calcium levels in the blood suddenly spike -- and that's a common occurrence when people take high doses of calcium on an empty stomach," explains Ian Reid, M.D., a professor of medicine and endocrinology at the University of Auckland.

Soak Up Some Sun

Getting 15 minutes of sunshine just three times a week can cut your risk of bone fractures as much as 33 percent, say researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. The one caveat: You'll get far better results if you don't apply sunscreen until those 15 minutes are up, say Boston University doctors. Their research shows that even paltry lotions (like an SPF 8) can block the skin's ability to produce vitamin D by as much as 97 percent. "When your body is exposed to UV light, it produces vitamin D -- a nutrient that's essential for shuttling calcium into bone tissue," says Michael Holick, M.D., a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. "If you're deficient in D, your bones will become weak and brittle…even if you're eating a great diet!"

Pack in the Prunes

Eating six of them daily cuts bone thinning in half. Plus, prunes (or, dried plums) kick-starts new bone growth in as little as three months, according to researchers at Florida State University in Tallahassee. The credit goes to boron -- a hard-to-find trace mineral that helps lock calcium and vitamin D into bone tissue so they can't leach out over time, says Michael Hirt, M.D., medical director of The Center for Integrative Medicine in Tarzana, CA. Prunes are one of nature's richest food sources of boron. But if you're not fond of this fruit, eating a daily 1/2 cup of boron-rich almonds, hazelnuts, raisins or dried apricots can also do the trick, says Dr. Hirt.

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