Bone density is the best single predictor of future fractures. Density accounts for about 80 percent of the strength of your bones. The best bone density tests predict fractures more successfully than cholesterol levels predict heart attacks or blood pressure predicts stroke. Yet these tests are underutilized, and insurance doesn't always cover them. As a result, less than 10 percent of people with significant bone loss are aware of their problem.
Important as these tests are, not everyone needs to be tested right now. Should you have a bone density test? If you answer even one of these questions yes, then you should be tested:
You have symptoms that suggest osteoporosis, such as bone fractures or loss of height.
You're beginning hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or other treatment for your bones. Or you're planning to stop HRT.
You have significant risk factors other than being a woman.
You're in perimenopause or menopause.
Several different tests are used to measure bone density, which is also referred to as bone mineral density or BMD. All these tests are safe, painless, quick (no more than 10 to 20 minutes), and precise.
Calcium and Vitamin D: For Today and Tomorrow
As you may have already assumed, continuing to take your calcium and vitamin D supplement long-term is critical to your bones' health. Important findings published in the September American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by Dr. Bess Dawson-Hughes and colleagues at Tufts University demonstrate that you must continue to take your supplements to achieve long-term benefits for bones.
Men and women (68 years and older) who participated in a three-year randomized controlled trial of calcium and vitamin D supplementation at the research center experienced significant increases in bone mineral density over the three years…with a significant reduction in fractures. Researchers then followed these volunteers for another two years while they did not take the supplements. They found that the majority of bone benefits were completely lost during the two years without supplementation.
The take-home message: Continuing to regularly take a calcium and vitamin D supplement is just as important for older adults' bone health as starting them.