Calcium and Healthy Bones

Calcium is one of those things that we're always hearing about and being told how important that it is for our bones. I don't know if you are like me, but while I know that I should make sure that I'm getting enough calcium, I've never actually taken the time to really evaluate my diet and determine if I was getting an adequate amount of it. We all know that calcium is important for building strong bones and preventing osteoporosis, but do we know how much calcium we need and do we take steps regularly to keep our bones strong? I didn't. It was something that I thought about every once in a while and hoped that I was getting enough of. Recently because of some health changes that I am going through, I finally stopped and took the time to see just how much calcium that I need and how I can keep my bones strong. I want to pass along to you the information that I have found. Calcium absorption

First, a little about how our bodies absorb calcium. Our bodies can only absorb around 500 mg of calcium at one time, so it is important to get calcium all throughout the day. When we are younger, our bodies need calcium to build up the mass in our bones, making them strong. This building of bone mass peaks around age 30, which is why it is so important for children and young adults to get enough calcium every day. After age 30, we need adequate calcium so that we can keep our bones strong. For women, we start to lose bone mass slowly from age 30 on, and then bone loss increases more rapidly after menopause. That is when osteoporosis can happen, when our bones become too thin and brittle.

What else do we need to build and maintain strong bones?

In addition to calcium, our bodies need plenty of Vitamin D, exercise and protein to build and maintain strong bones. Vitamin D is so important because it helps our bodies absorb calcium. Vitamin D doesn't occur naturally in food too often but luckily our bodies are able to make it from the sunshine we absorb. So get outside and soak in a little sunshine! :) And while you're out there, why not go for a walk? Exercising regularly for 30 minutes a day is important for our bone health. But don't just do cardio, be sure to incorporate regular strength training into your life too. Strength training is wonderful for strengthening our bones. Protein is also important in keeping our bones strong, but excessive amounts of protein can cause calcium wasting.

Things that are not good for our bones

There are a few things that we should limit for the sake of our bones. Too much stress is bad for our bones; cortisol, a hormone that is released when we are stressed, depletes the calcium in our bodies. Too much soda isn't good for our bones either. Colas have phosphorous in them and when we drink cola too often, we can create an imbalance of calcium and phosphorous in our bodies. Phosphorous is the second most abundant element in our bodies, coming in second to calcium. Our bodies need a balance of both of these elements to have strong bones. When we get too much phosphorous, that is actually bad for our bones and can lead to osteoporosis. Antacids are another thing that when we have too much, they can be bad for our bones because they can interfere with calcium absorption by lowering the acid level in our stomachs. And because our stomachs need acid to absorb the calcium, too many antacids interfere with calcium absorption. Too much caffeine also reduces absorption of calcium. It is also best for our calcium levels if we don't have excessive alcohol, sodium or red meat in our diet.

Too much calcium?

Of course, even too much of a good thing is not good for our bodies either. Consuming calcium in excess of the upper limits set by the Institute of Medicine can lead to kidney stones, constipation, prostate cancer, calcium buildup in our blood vessels and interference of absorption of iron and zinc.

Calcium and Vitamin D guidelines

So just how much calcium do we need? The Institute of Medicine released new guidelines in November 2010 for how much calcium and Vitamin D we need every day.

for ages 1-3:

  • Calcium: 700 mg., no more than 2,500 mg.
  • Vitamin D: 600 IU, no more than 2,500 IU

for ages 4-8:

  • Calcium: 1,000 mg., more than 2,500 mg.
  • Vitamin D: 600 IU, no more than 3,000 IU

for ages 9-18:

  • Calcium: 1,300 mg., no more than 3,000 mg.
  • Vitamin D: 600 IU, no more than 4,000 IU

for men ages 19-70:

  • Calcium: 1,000 mg., no more than 2,500 mg.
  • Vitamin D: 600 IU, no more than 4,000 IU

for men 71 and older:

  • Calcium: 1,200 mg., no more than 2,000 mg.
  • Vitamin D: 800 IU, no more than 4,000 IU

for women 19-50:

  • Calcium: 1,000 mg., no more than 2,500 mg.
  • Vitamin D: 600 IU, no more than 4,000 IU

for women 51-70 (post-menopausal):

  • Calcium: 1,200 mg., no more than 2,000 mg.
  • Vitamin D: 600 IU, no more than 4,000 IU

for women 71 and older:

  • Calcium: 1,200 mg., no more than 2,000 mg.
  • Vitamin D: 800 IU, no more than 4,000 IU

Foods that are good sources of calcium

Eating foods that are high in calcium all throughout the day is the ideal way to get our daily requirement. There are lots of foods that have had calcium added to them. Below is a list of some foods that are naturally high in calcium. Eating a couple of these foods, combined with the calcium that you are getting from fortified foods, should enable you to meet your daily requirement for calcium.

  • dairy products: milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream
  • leafy green vegetables: spinach, kale, escarole, collard greens, bok choy, broccoli, okra
  • nuts: almonds, pistachios
  • legumes: white beans, soy beans
  • seeds
  • fish: sardines, salmon, perch and rainbow trout

Calcium Supplements

If you are not able to get enough calcium in your diet alone, there are various supplements that you can take. The two main supplements are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is a good choice because it is inexpensive and it contains 40% elemental calcium. But an empty stomach and low levels of stomach acid make it difficult for the body to absorb the calcium. So this supplement must be taken with food. Calcium citrate is easier to absorb without food but it only contains 21% elemental calcium. There are two other possible calcium supplements: calcium gluconate with only 9% elemental calcium and calcium lactate with only 13% elemental calcium. The supplements are good for just that, supplementing what our diet is missing. By getting our calcium directly from the food source, we are also getting lots of other nutrients that we would be missing out on if we were just taking a supplement to meet our calcium needs. Before starting to take supplements, keep a record of what you eat for a week or so and determine how much calcium you are getting before you add supplements to your diet. If you are already eating a well-balanced diet, you might already be getting enough calcium.

Today's the day

It's worth taking the time to assess how much calcium we are regularly getting and add some new calcium-rich foods to our diet if we are lacking. We all want to be strong and healthy, and enjoy every day that we have until our last one. The time to take care of our bones is now!