Every structure requires a sturdy frame and the human body is no different. The bones of the human skeleton serve as the firm yet flexible support for the entire body. Having healthy bones is a vital part of maintaining optimal health and well-being. Bones protect vital organs and the spinal chord against injury. They serve as the site of production for red blood cells that nourish and oxygenate body tissues. The skeleton acts as the body’s storehouse for calcium, the mineral essential for regulation of heart, muscle and nerve function. Strong bones protect and serve the body in so many ways.

Osteoporosis is a disease that directly threatens the skeleton’s ability to protect the body. It weakens bones, leads to decreased bone mass, and to an increased susceptibility to fractures (broken bones). Osteoporosis results when calcium leeches from bones faster than it is replaced. It is known as a “silent disease,” as there are no obvious outward symptoms. All too often, the first warning that a person has osteoporosis comes when some kind of bump or fall causes brittle bones weakened by the disease to break, at which point the disease is already far advanced. The good news is that osteoporosis is preventable and effective treatments exist for those living with the disease.


Approximately 10 million Americans live with osteoporosis. An additional 34 million people are at increased risk of developing the disease due to low bone mass. Eighty percent of people with the disease are women. Osteoporosis constitutes a significant national health threat accounting for 1.5 million fractures each year. One quarter of all men and half of all women over the age of 50 will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. Hip fractures are particularly devastating. Up to one-third of people who suffer an osteoporosis-related hip fracture will die within one year of the event. The direct cost of hospital visits and nursing home care due to osteoporosis totals more than $14 billion annually.


While bones look and feel solid, microscopic examination reveals a much different picture. Bones are living, growing tissue composed of a soft, lattice-like protein framework and minerals that lend strength. An abundant protein called collagen forms the flexible scaffolding upon which minerals are deposited and harvested according to the body’s needs. Two processes cooperate to ensure continuous renewal of the skeleton. Resorption is the process of breaking bone down while remineralization is the process of building new bone tissue. The skeleton renews itself on the average of every seven years.

Risk Factors

A common misconception about osteoporosis is that it only affects older women with small frames. While age and gender are among the risk factors that predispose an individual toward developing the disease, the truth is that osteoporosis can strike anyone, at any age. Everyone is at risk.

Among the risk factors for osteoporosis are:

• Personal history of fracture after age 50
• Current low bone mass
• History of fracture in a close relative
• Being female
• Being thin and/or having a small frame
• Advanced age
• A family history of osteoporosis
• Estrogen deficiency as a result of menopause, especially early or surgically-induced
• Abnormal absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
• Anorexia nervosa
• Low lifetime calcium intake
• Use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids and anticonvulsants
• Low testosterone levels in men
• An inactive lifestyle
• Current cigarette smoking
• Excessive use of alcohol
• Being Caucasian or Asian, although African Americans and Hispanic Americans are at significant risk as well

As can be seen from this list, while some of the above risk factors are beyond human control, others, such as calcium intake, cigarette and alcohol use, and level of physical activity, are definitely open to change. It is important to identify ones own risk factors, and to modify behaviors wherever possible to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.

Importance of Calcium

The principle mineral constituent of bone is calcium. Teeth and bones contain 99% of the body’s calcium. The remaining 1% is found in the bloodstream. The average adult human skeleton contains three pounds of calcium, making it one of the most abundant minerals in the body. While calcium gives teeth and bones their much-needed strength, the mineral also fulfills several other less well-known but equally vital functions in the human body.

Calcium Food GroupCalcium plays a pivotal role in blood clotting. The body requires the mineral for proper regulation of heart and muscle function. Calcium is necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses and helps regulate blood pressure. Calcium is also in high demand when a woman is pregnant, as the growing fetus needs the nutrient for bone formation.

The body demands a steady supply of calcium to fulfill these crucial duties. When calcium stores in the blood become depleted, the mineral is stripped from the body’s calcium repository – the bones. Adequate daily calcium intake helps ensure preservation of bone mass and guards against osteoporosis.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses the term Daily Value (DV) to describe the amount of a nutrient the average person requires on a daily basis. Current guidelines established by the National Academy of Sciences recommend the average person consume 1,000 mg of calcium per day. An individual may require more or less calcium depending on a variety of factors including age and health status. Generally speaking, women require more calcium than men.

The Estrogen/Testosterone Factor

The hormones estrogen and testosterone, vital to the human reproductive cycle, also play an important role in osteoporosis. The leading causes of the onset of osteoporosis are a drop in estrogen in women at the time of menopause, and a drop in testosterone in men.

Daily Calcium Requirements

While dairy products including milk, cheese and yogurt are excellent sources of calcium, many people find it difficult or undesirable to consume large quantities of these foods due to their high caloric and saturated fat content. Low or non-fat dairy products are better choices. The best way to meet your daily calcium requirement is by eating a variety of foods. Remember, foods labeled “high in calcium” contain at least 20% of the Daily Value while foods labeled as “good sources of calcium” contain 10-19% of the Daily Value.

View the tables below to learn the calcium content of some common foods. All values are adapted from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/


Food Serving size Calcium
content (mg)
Parmesan Cheese 1 Tbsp. 55
Light Vanilla Ice Cream 1/2 Cup 77
Light Vanilla Soft Serve 1/2 Cup 113
Feta Cheese 1 oz. 140
Blue Cheese 1 oz. 150
Low Fat Cottage Cheese 1 Cup 156
American Cheese 1 oz. 156
Muenster Cheese 1 oz. 203
Cheddar Cheese 1 oz. 204
Mozzarella Cheese 1 oz. 207
Hot Fudge Sundae 1 Sundae 207
Provolone Cheese 1 oz. 214
Swiss Cheese 1 oz. 224
Low Fat Milk 1 Cup 271
Low Fat Chocolate Milk 1 Cup 288
Low Fat Plain Yogurt 8 oz. 415
Vanilla Milk Shake 11 fl. oz. 457
Part Skim Ricotta 1 Cup 669


Breakfast Favorites

Food Serving size Calcium
content (mg)
Custard Filled Éclair 1 Éclair 63
Danish Cheese Pastry 1 Pastry 70
French Toast with Butter 2 Slices 73
Plain Frozen Waffle 1 Waffle 77
Plain Toasted English Muffin 1 Muffin 98
Cheerios 1 Cup 100
Blueberry Muffin Prepared from Recipe 1 Muffin 108
Pancakes with Butter and Syrup 2 Pancakes 128
Perrier Mineral Water N/A 147 mg/l
English Muffin with Egg, Cheese and Canadian Bacon 1 Muffin 151
Croissant with Egg, Cheese and Bacon 1 Croissant 151
San Pellegrino Mineral Water N/A 208 mg/l
Biscuits Prepared from Recipe One 4’’ Round Biscuit 237
Low Fat Milk 1 Cup 271
Calcium-Fortified Orange Juice 1 Cup 350
Low Fat Plain Yogurt 8 oz. 415
Total Raisin Bran Cereal 1 Cup 1000


American Favorites

Food Serving size Calcium
content (mg)
Cocoa Mix 1 Serving 90
Milk Chocolate with Almonds 1.45 oz. (1 Bar) 92
Tapioca Pudding 4 oz. 95
Corndog 1 Corndog 102
Chocolate Pudding 4 oz. 102
White Long-Grain Enriched Rice 1 Cup 111
Macaroni and Cheese 1 Cup 113
Cheese Pizza 1 Slice 117
Hamburger with Condiments 1 Hamburger 126
Trail Mix with Chocolate Chips,
Nuts and Seeds
1 Cup 159
Cornbread Prepared from Recipe 1 Piece 162
Fish Sandwich with Tartar Sauce and Cheese 1 Sandwich 185
Submarine Sandwich with Cold Cuts One 6’’ Sandwich 189
Cheeseburger with Single Patty 1 Cheeseburger 206

Mexican Favorite

Food Serving size Calcium
content (mg)
Chili Con Carne with Beans 1 Cup 67
Bean and Cheese Burrito 1 Burrito 107
Frijoles with Cheese 1 Cup 189
Tostada with Guacamole 1 Tostada 211
Nachos with Cheese 6-8 Nachos 272
Cheese Enchilada 1 Enchilada 324
Fast Food Taco 1 Large 339


Vegetables and Legumes

Food Serving size Calcium
content (mg)
Cooked Broccoli 1 Cup 62
Cooked Artichokes 1 Cup 76
Canned Chickpeas 1 Cup 77
Canned Red Ripe Tomatoes 1 Cup 87
Canned Refried Beans 1 Cup 88
Cooked Kale 1 Cup 94
Cooked Frozen Peas 1 Cup 94
Canned Baked Beans 1 Cup 127
Navy Beans 1 Cup 127
Firm Tofu 1 slice (84 gms) 27
Scalloped Potatoes 1 Cup 140
Cooked Chinese Cabbage 1 Cup 158
Beet Greens 1 Cup 164
Cooked Frozen Okra 1 Cup 177
Cooked Frozen Kale 1 Cup 179
Canned White Beans 1 Cup 191
Potatoes Au Gratin (from mix) 1 Cup 203
Black-eyed Peas 1 Cup 211
Cooked Frozen Turnip Greens 1 Cup 249
Green Cooked Soybeans 1 Cup 261
Canned Spinach 1 Cup 272
Cooked Frozen Rhubarb 1 Cup 348
Cooked Frozen Collards 1 Cup 357

Getting Calcium Through Supplements

Many people find it difficult to meet the Daily Value for calcium through diet alone. In those cases, calcium supplementation is a good idea. But with so many different kinds of calcium supplements on the market, how does one choose the which is right for one’s particular case? Each person’s case and tastes vary.

Most experts would agree that the best calcium supplement tastes palatable and will be taken every day. A supplement containing a bioavailable form of calcium—that is, a form that is readily absorbed and utilized by the body, should be chosen. Some researchers contend that the so-called chelated forms of calcium, such as calcium citrate, are best. The chewable antacids taken regularly by many individuals contain calcium carbonate, another effective form. One should steer clear of supplements made from bone meal or oyster shell, as they may contain significant levels of lead, a toxic metal. Since the body can only absorb a limited amount of calcium at a time, it is best to take calcium supplements with food in divided doses throughout the day.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that aids in calcium absorption and bone formation. Drinking vitamin D fortified milk will help ensure that the recommended daily value of 400 IU (International Units) is met. Vitamin D can also be obtained by spending time outdoors, because the skin synthesizes vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight. Fifteen minutes of sun exposure three times per week should supply most people with adequate levels of this essential vitamin.

Calcium Blockers

It is important to be aware that a number of nutrients can have a negative effect on the absorption and utilization of calcium. High levels of sodium, caffeine and protein can contribute to calcium loss. Fiber, phytic acid (found in whole grains and nuts), and oxalic acid (found in tea and cocoa) all interfere with calcium absorption. Calcium and magnesium compete with each other for absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. If supplementing both minerals, one should be sure to take them in a ratio of 2:1 (calcium:magnesium) for optimal absorption of each.

A number of medications can also interfere with the absorption, utilization or excretion of calcium, including (but not limited to) the following

Medication Examples
Corticosteroids Prednisone, hydrocortisone
Thyroid replacement hormone Synthroid®, Levoxyl®
Anticonvulsants Dilantin®
Antibiotics Erythromycin, cycloserine

Antacids (containing aluminum)

Maalox®, Mylanta®

When using any of these medications, one should speak to a health care provider about steps to be taken in order to be sure that calcium intake is adequate.

Getting Enough Calcium Through Exercise

In addition to ensuring ones intake of sufficient calcium, exercise is another tool to be used to stave off osteoporosis. Studies have shown that regular exercise that works against gravity or gets muscles to pull against bones causes those bones to retain and even increase their density.

Women who walk a mile a day have been found to have four to seven more years of bone in reserve than women who don’t. Some exercises recommended to guard against osteoporosis include:

• Weight-bearing exercises -- walking, jogging, playing tennis, dancing
• Resistance exercises -- free weights, weight machines, rubber stretch bands
• Balancing exercises -- tai chi, yoga
• Riding stationary bicycles
• Using rowing machines
• Walking
• Jogging

As always, it is extremely important to check with a health care provider before starting any new exercise regimen. This is especially the case if signs of osteoporosis are already evident. A health care provider is qualified to help a patient to choose forms of exercise that do not create or put one at a risk of falling and breaking bones.


National Osteoporosis Foundation
1232 22nd Street N.W. • Washington, D.C., 20037-1292
Phone: (202) 223-2226

“The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) is the leading nonprofit, voluntary health organization dedicated to promoting lifelong bone health.”

National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases
National Resource Center

2 AMS Circle • Bethesda, MD 20892-0344
Phone: (800) 624-BONE • (202) 223-0344

“The National Resource Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness, knowledge and understanding of physicians, health professionals, patients, underserved and at-risk populations (such as Hispanic and Asian women, adolescents, and men) and the general public about the prevention, early detection and treatment of osteoporosis and related bone diseases.”

International Osteoporosis Foundation
5 Rue Perdtemps
1260 Nvon
Phone: 41-22-994-0100
Fax: 41-22-994-0101

“IOF's mission is to advance the understanding of osteoporosis and to promote prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease worldwide.”

A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health

“MEDLINEplus, a goldmine of good health information from the world's largest medical library, the National Library of Medicine. Health professionals and consumers alike can depend on it for information that is authoritative and up to date. MEDLINEplus has extensive information from the National Institutes of Health and other trusted sources on over 600 diseases and conditions.”

Foundation for Osteoporosis Research and Education (FORE)
300 27th Street, Suite #103 • Oakland, CA 94612
Phone: 510-832-2663

“Founded in 1990, FORE is a non-profit resource center dedicated to eliminating osteoporosis through our research, education and bone density testing programs."