Have you thought about your bone health? You should, because osteoporosis — a condition in which the bones become weak and can easily break — is a major cause of disability. It strikes women significantly more than men, and many of the 10 million Americans who have osteoporosis are undiagnosed."Often people don’t know that they have osteoporosis until a bone actually breaks," says Dr. Nancy Georgekutty, an independently practicing family medicine physician on the medical staff at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center. "Anyone can develop osteoporosis, but women are at higher risk than men, and it’s not just an older person’s disease."Besides getting older, having a small frame, a vitamin deficiency or a family history of weak bones can increase your likelihood of developing osteoporosis, she explains. To help prevent the condition, it is important to think about bone health in children and teenagers.Bone buildup stops in most women by age 20. If teenagers are not getting adequate calcium through the foods that they eat, then they may be starting their adult life with thinner bones, creating a deficit before they even start to lose bone later in life. When that happens, their chance of a serious fracture will rise dramatically."To maintain healthy bones, eat foods fortified with vitamin D such as dairy products and leafy green vegetables," recommends Georgekutty. "Ten minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen also gives you enough vitamin D."Adults should continue to maintain bone strength. This is especially true for women once they reach menopause, when estrogen levels drop resulting in lower calcium levels and increased bone loss," she says.To protect your bones, Georgekutty recommends the following: Stay physically active. Bones have some cells that are adding new bone and others that are taking away bone. If an individual is inactive and lies around, the bones will get weak. Conversely, weight-bearing exercise such as walking puts stress on the bones and forces them to add more bone. "If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it," she says. Take adequate doses of calcium and vitamin D. Both calcium and vitamin D are important for bone health. Adults need about 1,200 mg of calcium daily, and the recommended dose for vitamin D is 800 IU. For most people, it is difficult to get enough calcium and vitamin D through their diet alone. Ask your physician if you should be taking supplements. Additionally, calcium should be consumed in two doses because the body can only absorb about 500 mg at one time. Avoid smoking and don’t consume too much alcohol. These are two big risk factors for osteoporosis that a person can avoid. Stop smoking and keep alcohol consumption below seven drinks per week. Get a bone density test. A bone density test is a special X-ray of the lower spine and hips. Getting this simple, painless bone mineral density test at the proper age can detect a problem while there is time to fix it. Georgekutty recommends women get the test around the time of menopause to determine their bone health. Younger women may benefit from the screening if they are at increased risk for fractures.Some risk factors are unavoidable, such as getting older, having a family history of hip fracture, entering menopause early or having certain diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. It’s important for individuals to be aware of their risk factors and determine which lifestyle changes they can make to prevent bone loss.Even though the disease has no cure, a number of medications are available for treating osteoporosis. Hormone therapy is also a form of treatment. Hopefully you won’t ever deal with osteoporosis. Start by building stronger bones now. When it comes to preventing fractures, prevention is always good to fall back on. Texas law prohibits hospitals from practicing medicine. The physicians on the Methodist Health System medical staff are independent practitioners who are not employees or agents of Methodist Health System or Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.