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8 October 2004
Vitamin D Key To Preventing Osteoporosis

More than half the women being treated for osteoporosis have sub-optimal levels of vitamin D, say researchers. Despite routine recommendations that women diagnosed and treated for osteoporosis take over-the-counter vitamin D supplements, vitamin D inadequacy is still highly prevalent. The National Osteoporosis Foundation advises getting recommended daily amounts of vitamin D and calcium as one of the five steps involved in bone health and osteoporosis prevention.

"While women may know that calcium is an important part of bone health, this research shows that some women on treatment for osteoporosis are unaware of the important role vitamin D plays or are simply not getting adequate amounts as part of their treatment regimen," said Ethel Siris, director of the Toni Stabile Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis. "Getting enough vitamin D, whether through supplements, proper food choices or appropriate and careful exposure to sunlight, is vital to managing osteoporosis."

More than 10 million people in the United States are estimated to have osteoporosis and 80 percent are women.

Vitamin D, an essential component of osteoporosis therapy, helps to ensure that the body absorbs and retains calcium and phosphorus, both critical for building bone. It enhances calcium absorption by the intestine, allowing calcium to enter the bloodstream. Vitamin D also works in the kidneys to help resorb calcium that otherwise would be excreted. Vitamin D inadequacy can lead to weak bones and an increase in the risk of fractures. Vitamin D is manufactured in the skin after direct exposure to sunlight, but as adults age, the ability to make vitamin D through the skin diminishes. Many experts recommend a daily intake of between 400 and 800 IU of vitamin D through dietary sources such as dairy products (primarily milk) and a few types of fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel) or in the form of supplements for adults over 50.

Osteoporosis, a disease characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, can lead to bone fragility and an increased susceptibility to fractures, especially of the hip and spine. Osteoporosis is often called a "silent disease" because bone loss occurs without symptoms. People may not know that they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a sudden strain, bump or fall from standing height causes a fracture or a vertebra to collapse. One in two women over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in her remaining lifetime.

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