Question: My great aunt is 76 and swims or walks almost every day, but she’s starting to get bent over and has the beginnings of a hump between her shoulders. What can she do to reverse this or at least keep it from getting worse? — Patricia O., N.Y.
Answer: What you’re describing calls for a physical exam and perhaps a bone scan.
Chances are your great aunt may be developing osteoporosis (loss of bone density leading to easy fractures). There are several self-care steps she can take that will improve her overall strength and her bone health.
First, she should have a blood test to check her calcium level. For anyone over 60, it should be in the 9 milligrams per deciliter range. And whatever the results, she should make an effort to eat calcium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, sunflower seeds, carrots, green beans, almonds, broccoli, and low-fat dairy. A supplement of 600 milligrams of calcium with 300 milligrams of magnesium daily is safe to take and may provide benefits — don’t take more without a doctor’s OK.
Also, vitamin D is important for bone health. She should talk to her doc about taking a supplement of vitamin D-3 — at least 800 to 1,000 international units (IU) daily to get her blood level to 35 to 80 milligrams per deciliter.
But there’s another dietary component doctors are beginning to realize is particularly important for seniors: protein. The International Osteoporosis Foundation found: “Dietary protein levels even above the current RDA may be beneficial in reducing bone loss and hip fracture risk, provided calcium intakes are adequate. (And) insufficient dietary protein intakes may be a more severe problem than protein excess in the elderly.”
The recommendation for protein intake for folks 50 plus is 55 grams to 70 grams of protein a day, but after age 65, 75 grams to 80 grams might be smart (unless you have kidney problems). So suggest your aunt start the day with protein from skinless chicken, fish or an egg-white omelet, and that she eat protein in each meal. Non-meat sources of protein include rice and beans, nuts and whole grains.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.