Back to Top Skip to main content

For a good grade on bone health, aim for D – vitamin D

An Army trainee at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, gets a bone density scan as part of a study with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Massachusetts, that's aimed at reducing musculoskeletal injuries. (Courtesy photo) An Army trainee at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, gets a bone density scan as part of a study with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Massachusetts, that's aimed at reducing musculoskeletal injuries. (Courtesy photo)

Recommended Content:

Women's Health

Vitamin D is essential to building and maintaining strong bones, health experts say. Yet so many Americans – women, in particular -- aren't getting enough of it that in a report to the secretaries of the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee called vitamin D a "shortfall nutrient … of public health concern."

"Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption, and calcium is one of the major minerals in the bone," said Erin Gaffney-Stomberg, a research physiologist and principal investigator formerly at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, in Natick, Massachusetts.

"So if you don't have adequate vitamin D status, your calcium absorption will be impaired," said Gaffney-Stomberg, now at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center's Combat Feeding Directorate, in Natick.

In adults, severe vitamin D deficiency may lead to fragile, soft, and misshapen bones, a condition called osteomalacia. Osteoporosis is a disease in which the density and quality of bones are reduced over time. More than 80 percent of the 10 million Americans who have osteoporosis are women, according to the Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health.

Women are more affected because they typically have smaller, thinner, and less-dense bones than men, said Joanne Porwoll, a nurse practitioner in endocrinology at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia. Other risk factors for osteoporosis include smoking, and drinking more than three alcoholic beverages daily.

Lifestyle changes can lower the risk for osteoporosis, Porwoll said. Those changes include doing weight-bearing activities, and ensuring there's enough vitamin D in the diet. Porwoll said people with the highest risk of having a vitamin D deficiency include those who live or work in environments with minimal sun exposure, have darker skin pigmentation, have health disorders that affect gut absorption of nutrients, or who take medications that affect the metabolism of vitamin D.

"Vitamin D really is unique because it can actually be made in our bodies," Gaffney-Stomberg said. She explained that in response to sunlight, a form of cholesterol in the skin is transformed into vitamin D. But exposing unprotected skin to the sun has health risks, the American Cancer Society warns.

People also can get vitamin D through foods, including fatty fishes such as salmon and mackerel, and dairy products and cereals that have been fortified with vitamin D. However, studies have found that people generally have a very poor intake of vitamin D from food sources.

Gaffney-Stomberg cited a study of soldiers in initial Army training that found 70 percent of the women consumed less than a third of recommended levels of vitamin D. For men, the figure was 55 percent. These statistics are similar to those found in the civilian population, she said.

Decreased bone mass at any age can lead to an increased risk of fracture. That's what led Gaffney-Stomberg and other USARIEM researchers to collaborate with the Combat Feeding Directorate to develop a food item called the Performance Readiness Bar. The PRB is a supplemental snack bar fortified with vitamin D and calcium to support bone health. The aim is for Army recruits to consume the bar to prevent stress fractures.

"Stress fractures are one of the most common injuries during initial Army training," Gaffney-Stomberg said. "Trainees are 18 times more likely to sustain a stress fracture compared to active-duty service members, and women have a four times greater risk than men."

The PRB is a result of research that showed Army recruits who consumed two bars containing calcium and vitamin D every day during basic training experienced greater increases in bone density compared to those who ate a placebo bar, Gaffney-Stomberg said.

She added that a four-year study of 4,000 recruits is underway by scientists at USARIEM to understand the risk factors associated with stress fractures in recruits and the extent to which the PRB makes a difference.

Porwoll suggests Military Health System beneficiaries talk with their primary care providers about whether they should take vitamin D supplements. She noted that some calcium supplements also contain vitamin D, and too much vitamin D can be harmful. The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, Office of Dietary Supplements provides recommended dietary allowances.

While vitamin D previously had been thought to lower the risk of some types of cancer, a large clinical trial by the NIH's National Cancer Institute recently concluded there was no link. When it comes to good bone health, however, there's no dispute about the benefit of vitamin D.

You also may be interested in...

Female, male service members, veterans recover from concussion differently

Article
3/6/2020
At an informal celebration at the AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub earlier this month, U.S. Air Force personnel took delivery of four helmet designs that may each represent the next generation of fixed-wing aircrew equipment. In just nine months, the AFWERX innovations process generated tangible products for further Air Force testing and development. (U.S. Air Force photo by Nathan Riddle)

Female veterans may have a harder time performing some mental tasks after a mild traumatic brain injury or concussion

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Women's Health | Men's Health

HPV vaccine age limit raised by FDA to age 45

Article
1/14/2020
https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/hpv/ Recent CDC and FDA guidance recommends that men and women up to 45 years of age get vaccinated to protect against the Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and can cause certain cancers and genital warts. More than 14 million new HPV infections occur in the U.S. each year, and about 80 percent of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at some point in their lives. (National Foundation for Infectious Diseases image)

HPV shot protects against a host of diseases in men, women

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Health Readiness | Preventive Health | Men's Health | Women's Health | Immunization Healthcare | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases | Vaccine Recommendations

New 3-D mammogram option the next step in diagnosis, treatment

Article
12/19/2019
Chief Hospital Corpsman Naomi Perez, a certified mammogram technician (left), conducts a mammogram for a patient at Naval Hospital Pensacola. A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray procedure used to detect the early stages of breast cancer. A policy change effective Jan. 1, 2020, will allow digital breast tomosynthesis, or 3-D mammography, to be used to screen for breast cancer. The procedure – known technically as Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (DBT) – will be offered primarily to women age 40 and older, and women age 30 and older who are considered high-risk for breast cancer.  The procedure’s 3-D images provide a more thorough means of detecting the disease. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brannon Deugan)

Procedure would enhance effectiveness of breast cancer screening

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Health Program | Women's Health

3D Mammography Toolkit

Publication
12/19/2019

Recommended Content:

MHS Toolkits | TRICARE Health Program | Women's Health

3D Mammography Infographic 2

Publication
12/16/2019

Share this infographic to spread the word about 3-D Mammography coverage

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Health Program | Women's Health | MHS Toolkits

3D Mammography Infographic 1

Publication
12/16/2019

Share this infographic to spread the word about 3-D Mammography coverage

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Health Program | Women's Health | MHS Toolkits

Talking_Points_3D_Mammography

Publication
12/16/2019

These talking points share information about 3-D mammography

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Health Program | Women's Health | MHS Toolkits

Award-winning Navy team successfully improves care for women, infants

Article
11/26/2019
Labor and Delivery providers were the front-line adopters of the Induction of Labor care pathway at Naval Medical Center San Diego. As of July 2019, over 80 percent of the hospital’s providers were using the pathway. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joseph A. Boomhower)

An award-winning team of nurses successfully implemented a treatment guide at Naval Medical Center San Diego that improves labor and delivery outcomes

Recommended Content:

Military Hospitals and Clinics | Children's Health | Women's Health

Inclusion of Women and Minorities in the CDMRP

Congressional Testimony
10/7/2019

S. 3159 SAC Report for FY 2019, 115-290 Pg. 213-214

Recommended Content:

Women's Health

The Head, Hand, and Heart of Women’s Health

Article
10/4/2019
Maintaining peak health is critical for all military personnel. This month, we focus on women whose health concerns and symptoms may be different from those in men. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Roger Jackson)

Health is universal for military personnel and civilians, but some health concerns affect women differently. Here are a few examples.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Preventive Health | Women's Health

Women's Health Month: Take ownership of health, wellness issues

Article
10/1/2019
Navy Cmdr. Francesca Cimino, M.D. (standing) confers with a colleague in the Family Medicine department at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. (Courtesy photo)

Regular cancer screenings are vital, but there's much more to longevity

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Women's Health

A surprise delivery at Fort Bragg’s maternity fair

Article
9/19/2019
Pamela Riis (in pink the pink top) learns more about the use of nitrous oxide during labor at the semiannual Fort Bragg Maternity Fair. More than 300 pregnant women, soon-to-be dads, parents of infants, and those planning to have a baby soon participated in the event. (U.S. Army photo by Patricia Beal)

For Linda Steadman, a certified nursing assistant, this will be a day to remember

Recommended Content:

Children's Health | Women's Health | Military Hospitals and Clinics | Month of the Military Child

Report on Rate of Maternal Mortality Among Members of the Armed Forces

Congressional Testimony
7/10/2019

H.R. 5515, NDAA Conference Report for FY 2019, 115-874, Pg. 861

Recommended Content:

Women's Health

Sexually transmitted infections on the rise in military

Article
6/26/2019
Some sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in the military. To increase awareness, members of Team McConnell attend a briefing on STIs at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

What you need to know to stay safe

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Men's Health | Women's Health

Mail-in colon cancer screening may end colonoscopy for most

Article
6/19/2019
Army Medicine logo

The best test is the one the patient will do

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Men's Health | Women's Health
<< < 1 2 3 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 3

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.