In addition to being Mental Health Awareness Month, May is also Osteoporosis Awareness Month. Osteoporosis or "porous bone" is a disease that results in having low bone mass and deterioration of the bone tissue. Osteoporosis can lead to an increase risk of bone fractures typically in the wrist, hip and spine.
This debilitating disease strikes one in two American women over the age of 50. In fact, osteoporotic fractures occur in 1.5 million American women annually, more than the combined incidence of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke. Also, 25 percent of women who suffer a hip fractures die within one year of the fracture.
Don't think that osteoporosis is just a woman's disease; men can suffer from it too.
Statistically, African-Americans have higher bone density than their white counterparts—hence the whole "big boned" thing—but that doesn't mean that osteoporosis isn't our problem too. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that 300,000 African-American women have osteoporosis and the USDA African-American women have osteoporosis and over 40 percent of African-American women over the age of 50 have low bone mass. Black women are more likely to die of hip fractures than white women.
So what puts at us risk?
There are many factors. First, diseases more prevalent in the African-American population, such as sickle-cell anemia and lupus, can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. Sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking are contributing factors.
Plus, we don’t consume enough calcium—and we have a good reason. Almost 75 percent of us are lactose intolerant and folks who are lactose intolerance—myself included—avoid milk and other dairy products that are high in calcium because we lack the enzyme that breaks down lactose (the main sugar found in milk). That's not good, because calcium is really important for healthy bones, teeth, heart, muscles and nerve function.
Most people don't know that the body cannot produce calcium; it must be absorbed through food and if you are not eating dairy, you are not getting the calcium that you need. But don't fret. Dairy products are not the way to get your calcium fix. Other good sources are:
—Dark green leafy vegetables—collard greens, spinach, kale, swiss chard and broccoli
—Calcium fortified foods—orange juice, cereal, bread, soy beverages and tofu products
—Nuts—almonds Brazil nuts
—Seeds—sesame seeds, tahini and flax seeds
Not sure how much calcium you should get? The National Academy of Science recommends the following:
—Ages 14–18 should consume 1300 milligrams a day.
—Ages 19–30 should consume 1000 milligrams a day
—Ages 30–50 should consume 1000 milligrams a day.
—Ages 51 or older should consume 1200 milligrams a day.
FYI: Vitamin D also plays an important role in healthy bone development. Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium (this is why milk is fortified with vitamin D).
Another way to build strong bones is weight and strength training. Weight training, especially in your younger years, helps your bones reach their peak mass.
Remember, good bone health is about prevention. To learn more, go here.