Is Calcium the Key to Bone Health?
Is Calcium the Key to Bone Health?
Calcium is necessary for human health and function. It’s a major component of bone strength and growth, and it’s essential for many other bodily processes. A common health concern is inadequate calcium intake, which can lead to weakened bones and a greater risk of osteoporosis. Older adults, especially, should make sure their diet contains enough calcium. Learn how calcium impacts bone health and how you can increase your calcium intake below.
Why Do Our Bodies Need Calcium?
Calcium is vital for several bodily functions and is the most abundant mineral in a person’s body. The vast majority of the body’s calcium resides in the bones and teeth, where it supports bone structure and function. Bones either resorb or deposit calcium — calcium deposition forms new bone.
During childhood and adolescence, bone production is greater than resorption. In adulthood, the two processes are about equal. In older adults, resorption is greater, which increases the risk of osteoporosis, especially in postmenopausal women. As a result, calcium intake needs are highest for growing adolescents and aging adults.
The remaining calcium, not stored in the bones and teeth, allows for various functions. It’s necessary for muscle movement, nerve transmission, blood movement and hormone secretion. These processes affect almost everything you do. In short, without calcium, the body cannot function.
How Much Calcium Is Necessary Per Day?
According to national nutrition surveys, less than half of older adults meet dietary guideline recommendations. Dairy, a food group rich in calcium, has the least amount of older adults meeting recommendations. The recommended daily allowances for men aged 50 to 70 is 1,000 milligrams. For women in the same age category, the recommended daily allowance is 1,200 milligrams. Both men and women over 70 should have a daily intake of 1,200 milligrams.
Is There a Such Thing as Too Much Calcium?
Keep in mind, too much calcium can cause issues. It can lead to constipation, inability to absorb other minerals and an increased risk of developing kidney stones. It’s important to stay within recommended upper limits, which is 2,000 milligrams for adults 50 and older. Always pay attention to food labels, particularly the daily value percentages.
Daily Value Percentages
Per Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, foods and drinks must include consumer information labels. Labels include serving sizes, calories, nutrients and daily value percentages. While you’re likely familiar with food and drink labels, it’s beneficial to understand how to interpret the daily value percentage.
Listed as %DV, the daily value percentage shows the consumer how much a nutrient in a serving of that food or drink will contribute to their total daily diet. This number helps you interpret the meaning behind the gram, microgram or milligram amount listed. For instance, a serving of food may contain 4 grams of dietary fiber. This is 14% of the dietary fiber you should consume in a day.
Some daily values are “at least” while others are “no more than.” The daily recommendations for added sugar and sodium are “no more than,” meaning you should try not to exceed those numbers. The daily recommendations for helpful nutrients, like dietary fiber and calcium, are “at least,” meaning you should try to reach or exceed those numbers.
Calcium Daily Value Percentages
If a label lists 320 milligrams of calcium, its daily value percentage will be 25%. So 320 milligrams is a quarter of the amount of calcium the average person should eat in a day. If you were to eat two servings of this food, you would eat 50% of the recommended daily calcium intake, and so on. Products with 20% or more of a nutrient serving are high in that nutrient, meaning a food with 320 milligrams of calcium would be high in calcium.
Remember, calcium intake needs vary depending on age and sex, so the recommended daily intake may not be accurate for your needs. Pay attention to daily value percentages, but remember to consume the right amount of milligrams for your age and sex category. If you’re an adult over 50, you may need more than the listed daily value.
Calcium and Preventing Osteoporosis
Calcium is necessary for bone strength. It can help reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, a bone disease in which the body loses too much bone or makes too little. While a healthy bone looks like a honeycomb under a microscope, an osteoporotic bone has enlarged holes and spaces due to decreased density. Less dense bones are weaker and more likely to break. These breaks most often occur in the hip, wrist and spine.
Osteoporosis leads to limited mobility and chronic pain. Many older adults with osteoporosis require constant care and face serious complications from broken bones. This condition can also lead to feelings of fear, isolation or depression. When osteoporosis affects the spine, it can lead to a loss in height or hunched posture. For these reasons, it’s best to prevent osteoporosis by promoting bone health.
Calcium and Bone Health
Consuming enough calcium can help you keep your bones strong as calcium and bone density are interlinked. The body cannot produce calcium, so if it receives too little calcium from the diet, it will take it from the bones, contributing to bone weakness and increasing osteoporosis risk. You should make sure your diet includes an adequate calcium amount.
Other Side Effects of Calcium Deficiency
Calcium deficiency may not have obvious symptoms short-term. Over time, a calcium deficiency may lead to numb feelings, cramping muscles, convulsions, lethargy and abnormal heart rhythms. Untreated, it can be life-threatening. As mentioned above, it also leads to an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Getting enough calcium is vital for your health.
Who Is at Risk of Calcium Deficiency?
Certain groups are more likely to have negative health consequences from a calcium deficiency. The group with the highest risk is postmenopausal women. Menopause leads to a decrease in estrogen, which results in increased bone absorption and decreased calcium absorption. Women in this category should consume more calcium to slow the rate of bone loss. They may also need to undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to supplement estrogen levels.
Amenorrhea, or failure to menstruate during childbearing years, is also related to an insufficient estrogen amount. This condition is common among women athletes and women with anorexia. Those in this category should try to consume more calcium.
Others who have a high risk of calcium deficiency are those who are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerant people often avoid dairy, a high-calcium food group. As a solution, these individuals might consider eating low-lactose dairy products like aged cheese or lactose-free milk. For the same reasons, vegetarians and vegans are at high risk for calcium deficiency. They might find calcium in other food sources or supplements.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Vitamin D allows the body to absorb calcium. Insufficient vitamin D can increase the odds of developing osteoporosis. It can lead to bone and back pain since vitamin D helps muscles absorb calcium. In children, too little vitamin D can stunt growth and, in rare cases, lead to Rickets disease.
Calcium and vitamin D work side by side to keep your body healthy and strong. Always make sure you consume enough vitamin D as well as calcium. Choose the following vitamin D-rich foods:
- Fish, especially salmon, tuna and mackerel
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Fortified milk
- Fortified orange juice
- Soy drinks
These foods will help you consume enough vitamin D to make proper use of your diet’s calcium. Spending time in the sun can also help, as the body can convert sunlight into vitamin D. Note, darker skin tones can inhibit vitamin D absorption from the sun, so diet is crucial for people of color. If you struggle to consume enough vitamin D in your diet, you might consider supplements.
Calcium and Other Nutrients
Other nutrients are also important for calcium absorption. Some such nutrients include phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin K and magnesium. Here’s some information on what those nutrients do for your body and which foods are good sources of them.
Phosphorus is an essential mineral in bone crystals. It contributes to strong, healthy bones. It also provides structural support for cell membranes and helps produce energy. Too little phosphorus can cause low energy levels and fatigue. Along with low calcium and vitamin D levels, it can lead to weaker bones over time. Keep in mind, too much phosphorus can lead to other health concerns. Foods high in phosphorus include dairy and meat products as well as bran cereal.
Vitamin A is essential for bone growth, strength and eye health. Too little vitamin A can contribute to blindness and osteoporosis. Foods rich in vitamin A include eggs, butter, green leafy vegetables and carrots. Since green leafy vegetables have so many other health benefits, it’s a good idea to include them in your diet often.
Vitamin K helps absorb calcium into the bones rather than the bloodstream. It also helps the blood clot, reducing the risk of excess bleeding. Those on blood-thinning medications might consider asking their doctors about their vitamin K consumption. Leafy vegetables such as kale, mustard greens and swiss chard have high amounts of vitamin K. Other foods include broccoli, chicken, avocado and ground beef.
Also essential for bone strength is magnesium. It allows for many bodily enzyme systems, including deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) synthesis. Good sources are green, leafy vegetables and whole grains. Some calcium supplements may also include magnesium.
Foods and Drinks to Boost Your Calcium Absorption
Choosing the right foods and drinks will help your body absorb calcium, promoting bone strength and overall health. Here are some of the best sources of calcium to include in your diet:
- Low-fat yogurt
- Low-fat milk
- Calcium-fortified soymilk
- Calcium-fortified cereal
- Tofu, firm or soft
- Turnip greens
When deciding how to get more calcium from your diet, consider the other nutrient factors of the above-listed foods. Choose low-fat dairy product options to avoid consuming too much fat in your diet. You may benefit from increasing the amount of fish and leafy greens you eat, as these foods have many other health benefits in addition to their calcium content.
Foods and Drinks That Inhibit Calcium Intake
Note that certain foods can inhibit your calcium intake. It’s best to steer clear of these foods as much as possible. Foods and drinks to avoid include:
- Alcohol: Alcohol interferes with the processes in your pancreas and liver, affecting your body’s ability to absorb and activate vitamins and minerals, like calcium. It can also decrease estrogen levels, which, as mentioned above, can affect calcium absorption. Heavy drinking, even as a young adult, can increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Caffeine: High caffeine consumption can also lead to calcium loss. In older adults with low calcium levels, the effect is most prominent. Including low-fat milk with your coffee can help mitigate this issue.
- Salt: Eating foods high in sodium can lead to weaker bones. Try to limit the amount of sodium-heavy foods you eat, including processed meats, pre-packaged foods and fast food. Be sure to check nutrition labels for sodium information.
- Carbonated drinks: Carbonated soft drinks have a direct association with an increased risk of fracture. Those looking to improve bone health should limit soft drinks. Instead, try to drink more water or calcium-rich beverages.
Before Taking Calcium Supplements
Those who struggle to consume enough calcium might consider calcium dietary supplements. You should always consult with a doctor before taking a dietary supplement, as they can present certain risks of their own. Here are a few things you should know about calcium supplements.
Take With Food
It’s a good idea to take a calcium supplement with food so the body can absorb calcium. It also helps reduce the odds of uncomfortable side effects, which can include bloating and constipation. If you experience these symptoms, you may need to switch supplement brands.
Take in Several Stages
The body is best able to absorb and use calcium in amounts no more than 600 milligrams at a time. It’s best to spread out your calcium intake throughout the day. If you take a daily supplement, you should split the dose in half and take it with two different meals. Too much calcium in a single dose can have adverse effects.
Recognize Purified Supplements
Always choose purified supplements. Look for familiar brand names and trustworthy companies. Calcium from unrefined sources, such as oyster shells or bone meal, may contain toxic metals. If you’re in the United States, look for the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) symbol. It’s always a good idea to research any supplement before taking it or speak to your doctor about it.
Understand Possible Side Effects
Be aware, calcium supplements can have unpleasant or harmful side effects. They can cause acid reflux, gas or constipation. You may need to try a different form of calcium or supplement brand. You may also need to increase your fluid and fiber intake.
Note that vitamin supplements can interfere with some medications, including diuretics, antacids, blood thinners and heart medicines. Always consult with a doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you take any other medications.
Let Spine Institute of North America Help With Your Back Pain
Consuming enough calcium and other vitamins and minerals supports bone health. It’s important to include calcium-rich foods in your diet and take supplements as needed. Calcium can help reduce the odds of developing back pain or osteoporosis — osteoporotic fractures are painful and often debilitating.
If you’re looking to reduce osteoporosis-related pain or back pain, a professional spine specialist may be able to help. Contact the Spine Institute of North America to learn more.