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Calcium for good health
Calcium is an important nutrient to the body for blood clotting, normal nerve conduction, regulation of heart rhythm, and bone health. Ninety-nine percent of calcium is stored in the bones and teeth. People who do not consume enough calcium throughout life are at risk for weak bones. Some bone loss is a normal part of aging, but weak bones may fracture easily in later life. The weakening of bones is called osteoporosis (or porous bones) and is a serious health condition.
Calcium deficiency in the blood is rare because our bones store calcium and release it into the bloodstream whenever blood levels dip below certain critical levels. The good news is our body can withstand a short-term deficit in calcium intake by breaking down bone to meet the immediate need for calcium. The bad news is that if our diets are deficient for long periods of time we will significantly deplete the bone stores causing osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a decrease in bone strength, leading to the development of small holes in the bone tissue. Over time, the accumulation of these holes causes the bone to thin and eventually break, even with the slightest stress such as a soft fall. In order to prevent osteoporosis, adequate calcium must be taken throughout a person's life span, particularly during adolescence and early adulthood when bone tissue mass is being maximized. Weight-bearing exercise also causes the bones to retain and possibly gain density throughout life.
So, who needs calcium and how much? Most health experts agree that 1000 to 1500 milligrams of calcium is needed every day. Most Americans consume less than what is recommended. The recommendations for calcium intake include:
Adolescents (9 to18 years) need 1,300 milligrams a day.
Adults should be getting 1,000 milligrams a day and should increase their intake to 1,200 milligrams a day after age 50.
Men over 65 and postmenopausal women not taking estrogen replacement therapy may need 1500 milligrams a day.
Where do we get calcium? Milk and dairy products are the primary sources of calcium in the diet. One cup of fat free, low fat, or whole milk provides 300 milligrams of calcium, as does one cup of orange juice with added calcium. For those who are lactose intolerant, acidophilus milk, yogurt, and cheese may be better tolerated. Choose low fat or fat free to avoid getting too much saturated fat.
Other sources of calcium include:
dark, green leafy vegetables
canned fish with soft bones (such as sardines and salmon)
soups and puddings made with milk
tofu made with calcium sulfate
If you are unable to consume adequate calcium in the foods you eat, you will need to consider a supplement. It is best to take calcium carbonate supplements. Taking a calcium supplement with each meal is advised for best absorption.
Vitamin D is critical in maintaining healthy bones. It aids calcium absorption and minimizes calcium loss in the urine. The sun is a source of vitamin D. Supplements with vitamin D may be necessary during winter in areas above 40 degrees latitude (San Francisco, Denver, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia) where sun exposure is low. Post-menopausal women should speak to their healthcare provider about hormone supplements as well.