PUBLISHED: 5:18 PM on Wednesday, April 6, 2005
Don't forget to take your Vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis
"Got milk?" Most women in the United States understood the message of the successful advertising campaign imploring them to increase calcium in their diets. But the message should have asked, "Got Vitamin D, too?"

Women over the age of 50 do not fully understand the role vitamin D plays in keeping their bones healthy, according to a national survey conducted by the Society for Women's Health Research, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. More than half of those surveyed hadn't even discussed vitamin D with their doctors.

"Calcium, vitamin D and physical activity are three key elements in maintaining optimal bone health, especially for women overE50," said Jo Parrish, the Society's vice president for communications.

Osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones and increases the chances of fracture, affects more than eight million women in the United States. As women age, the risk of developing osteoporosis increases. During menopause, bone loss is hastened by the depletion of estrogen, placing women at high risk for developing the disease.

Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health because it helps the body absorb calcium from the diet.

"Many women erroneously assume that the foods they eat contain an adequate amount of vitamin D," Parrish said. But it's "almost impossible to get the required amount of vitamin D from foods."

"Few foods in an otherwise healthy diet contain vitamin D," Parrish said, "with the exception of fortified milk, fortified orange juice, certain cereals and fatty fish such as salmon and sardines." For most people, a supplement is required to get the right amount in their diets.

The take home message - especially for women over the age of 50 - is to get enough vitamin D in their diets every day: "Women should talk to their health care providers about their need for vitamin D and how best to obtain it. Although it is not a routine test, women can ask for a test to determine their vitamin D level," Parrish said. "The surgeon general's report recommends that men and women over the age of 50 get 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D per day, and that men and women over the age of 70 get 600 IU of vitamin D per day."