Most people, especially in America, fail to meet the current guidelines for calcium intake; despite advertisements that promote dairy products to help build stronger bones and teeth. The lack of knowledge between calcium consumption and bone disease contributes to the high rate of fractures and disability due to osteoporosis. Inadequate calcium intake during the growth phase leads to calcium removal from the inside of bones which support longitudinal growth, thus resulting in thin, porous bones. A shortage of calcium affects how well the teeth develop from infancy through age twenty until the last teeth are formed.
Calcium allows us to support our weight as we stand, stop bleeding when we are cut, and contract our muscles when we run. It also helps regulate our blood pressure and other bodily functions. Calcium is released from the bones into the blood as the need arises. It binds with proteins and is a cofactor for many enzymes, resulting in their activation for specific functions. Proteins, assisted by calcium, regulate muscle contractions and relaxation, assists in blood clotting, transmits nerve impulses, signals glandular secretions, activates enzymatic reactions, and moves and divides cells. Isn’t that amazing?
During menopause, there is a sharp decline in estrogen levels that contribute to a change in calcium balance and accelerates bone loss, especially in the first three years. Estrogen replacement therapy is recommended by some doctors to slow down the bone loss. However, long term use of hormone therapy has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer and stroke. Women should weigh the pros and cons of hormone replacement before making a decision.
Pregnancy increases calcium need in order for support of fetal development, which places a significant stress on the mother’s skeletal balance. These needs are greatest during the third trimester when 200 mg of calcium a day are required for fetal growth. When a woman is pregnant, her body adjusts to the increased demand by increasing absorption and altering excretion. It also begins to store calcium in preparation for the demands of the lactation period. When calcium intake is low, the fetus is protected, but the mother’s skeleton is compromised to meet the demands. Drink yor milk, ladies!
Maintaining calcium balance is determined between calcium intake and calcium absorption and excretion. Absorption refers to the amount absorped from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. Excretion refers to the amount eliminated from the body i urine, feces, and sweat. The challenge with calcium absorption is to break it down well enough for the body to absorb it and utilize it. There are several factors that can decrease calcium absorption, such as Vitamin D inadequancy, menopause, decreased stomach acid, and diseases of the small intestine, liver, and pancreas. Calcium excretion can be increased by dietary sodium, alcohol, and aluminum-containing compounds.
Vitamin D is one of the most important factors influencing calcium absorption. Without sufficient Vitamin D, inadequate calcium is absorbed which may weaken bones and increase the risk of fracture. Vitamin D needs can be met by exposure to sunlight and through diet. Sunscreen can block Vitamin D production. In the USA, several states do not get adequate amounts of Vitamin D because the exposure to sunlight is limited. Therefore, they will need to consume Vitamin D from food and supplements to assure an optimal level.
Sodium increases loss of calcium in urine. For every teaspoon of salt or 2300 mg, the loss of calcium increases by 40-80 mg. A typical American adult consumes an estimated 4000-5800 mg of sodium in a day. The dietary requirement limits 1200 mg of sodium a day.
A diet high in animal protein may also contribute to a calcium deficiency because the body goes into a state of mild acidosis that forces the body to leach alkaline substances to restore balance. Calcium is one of the most plentiful alkalizing agents and the bones are the primary storehouse for calcium.
Most aluminum absorbed in the body is deposited in bones. Excessive aluminum-containing substances can contribute to bone disorders. Watch your anti-acid consumption.
Alcohol in excess has an impact on most nutrients because it displaces food from the diet as well as interferes with how the body metabolizes nutrients. Liver cells can lose their efficiency in sctivating Vitamin D which reduces calcium absorption.
Optimal calcium intake varies according to age and gender. In relationship to body size, calcium needs are greater during infancy than any other period of life. The teen years are critical to achieving optimal peak bone mass and in adults, it’s to minimize bone loss. According to the Norh American Menopause Society, a woman over the age of 65 should ingest 1500 mg of calcium a day. The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily dose of 1000 mg for women aged 31 to 50. The Recommended Dietary Allowances breaks it down according to age and gender based on the intake of calcium necessary to support the maximum calcium retention in the bone.
Sources of dietary calcium: Milk and diary products are primary source. Other food sources are sesame seeds, greens, okra, baked beans, oranges, almonds, black-eyed peas, green peas, sardines, and salmon. Fortified foods such as cereals and breads as well as juices must contain at least 200 mg of calcium per serving to be rich in calcium and 100 mg to be a good source of calcium. Read your labels.
Suggestions for calcium supplements:
- Calcium citrate has best absorption rate
- Read labels before purchasing
- Avoid natural sources such as bone meal, dolomite, and oyster shell which contain lead or heavy metals
- Divide large amounts of calcium into smaller doses throughout day-individual doses shouldn’t exceed 500 mg
- Take tablets with meals to maximize acid secretion
- Individuals with anemia should take iron and calcium at different times of the day
- Those on thyroid medications should take calcium at least 2 hours afterwards to prevent the interference of the absorption of the thyroid medication