Bone health is important regardless of your age. The bones are in a constant cycle of building and breaking down, which is influenced by your diet, exercise and lifestyle. Ninety-nine percent of the calcium in your body is found in your bones and teeth and another 1% of calcium circulates in your bloodstream. Circulating calcium is vital for healthy heart function, blood pressure control, muscle contraction when you exercise, hormone release, and blood clotting.
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Hormones in your body regulate blood calcium to ensure it does not drop too low in your bloodstream, but it is still important to have enough calcium in your diet to support healthy bone health and to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, or the decrease in bone density, affects both women and men as they age resulting in bones that are brittle and can fracture.
How Much Calcium Should I Take?
Most adults need between 1000 and 1200 milligrams of calcium daily. Unfortunately, many people don’t get enough calcium through diet alone. The best sources of calcium are dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt. For vegan or lactose-intolerant diets, there are some calcium-containing vegetables including leafy, green vegetables, legumes, seeds, and broccoli. However, compounds in some plants called phytic acid and oxalates reduce the absorption of calcium from the foods you eat by binding to them. Even if you eat a varied diet, you may not be getting enough calcium. In addition, calcium absorption decreases with age, so you may not be absorbing all of the calcium you get in your diet even if you are eating calcium-rich foods.
Osteoporosis and Calcium
Not getting enough calcium puts you at greater risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is one of the most common health problems in women after menopause. Osteoporosis increases the risk of fractures mainly of the spine, hips and wrists. When bones in the spine collapse due to osteoporosis, you may experience loss of height or even a hump in your spine that gives you a hunched-over appearance. You may even have osteoporosis and not even know it. It sometimes has very few symptoms until it’s in a more advanced stage, or a fracture occurs. Men are also affected by osteoporosis, especially after the age of 70. There are important steps you can take to keep your bones strong including weight bearing exercise at least 30 minutes a day, healthy nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
Do I Need a Calcium Supplement?
It is important to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of calcium in your diet. Calcium levels may be reduced if you are taking or including the following in your diet, antacids (stomach acid is needed to absorb calcium), caffeine, alcohol, sodium and red meat.
Women begin to lose bone density in their 20s and bone loss accelerates after menopause which increases their need for calcium at an earlier age than men. Women need 1000 milligrams daily until the age of 50 and 1200 milligrams per day afterwards, while men need 1000 milligrams a day until age 70 and then 1200 milligrams per day thereafter. Supplements may be important if you are unable intake adequate calcium. It’s important for children to get enough calcium too. The amount they need daily varies by age. Without adequate calcium, they may not reach their full height potential.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium absorption in the intestinal tract is enhanced with Vitamin D preferably in the form of Vitamin D-3, or cholecalciferol. Thus, cholecalciferol is included in many calcium supplements. The best source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. If you live in an area that doesn’t get direct sunlight, or you spend too little time in the sun, you may have low levels of vitamin D, another risk factor for osteoporosis. A calcium supplement combined with vitamin D can help supply what your diet does not.
Calcium is an important mineral to keep your bones and teeth healthy. If you’re not eating a calcium-rich diet, talk to your doctor about taking a calcium supplement to supply what your diet is missing.