Osteoporosis is characterized by a loss of calcium from bone, especially the spine and deterioration of bone tissue to the point it looks like Swiss cheese. A simple test for osteoporosis in adults is measured by your arm span and compare that measurement to your height. Stretch your arms straight out from your shoulder and have someone else measure your arm span in inches from your right middle fingertip to your left middle fingertip, going across your back. This measurement should equal your height in bare feet. Any difference between these two measurements may reflect the amount of height loss due to osteoporosis as long as the person doesn’t have other diseases of the spine which reduce height.
A more accurate test for osteoporosis can be done by a DEXA scan which is a low dose x-ray. By the time osteoporosis shows up on an x-ray, 40% of bone may have been lost. Regular X-ray machines are not used as a screening tool since your radiation exposure accumulates over your lifetime and the smaller your radiation exposure, the better.
Previously, osteoporosis has not appeared in women until later in life (after 55). We used to think that it was from a lifelong habit of not drinking milk. Researchers now believe osteoporosis involves multiple factors including calcium, vitamin D, estrogen, and exercise. We may be seeing more osteoporosis at a younger age because of the starvation imposed by anorexia.
To ensure an adequate intake of calcium (RDA is 1,000 milligrams for females (19 to 50 years), you should drink three cups of milk per day and eat other calcium-rich foods. Other foods that are equal to one cup of milk are:
- 1 oz grated or shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese
- 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese (brick, cheddar, Colby, Edam, Gouda, gruyere, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, muenster, provolone, Roquefort, Swiss, Tilsit, American)
- 3 1/2 ounces of shrimp
- 3/4 cup macaroni and cheese or Total cereal
- 1 cup of yogurt, baked custard, pudding or kefir
- 1 1/8 cup of tofu
- 1 1/2 cup of oysters or soybeans
- 1 3/4 cup of cream soup or ice cream
- 2 cups of cottage cheese or baked beans.
Foods such as canned salmon or sardines which have bones, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, Swiss chard, collards, bok choy, kale, beet, dandelion, mustard, turnip greens) and broccoli are good sources of calcium also. Any food that would have a milk product like cheese as an ingredient like pizza or tacos would also be a good source.
The other alternative is a calcium supplement. You will need 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day to substitute for milk.