Calcium is important because it is one of the most essential nutrients in your body. It makes up 99% of your teeth and bones, so it’s particularly crucial to make sure you get enough calcium as you age.
It provides other functions too, such as muscle contraction regulation. As the heart is a muscle, calcium helps it to beat effectively. It also plays a part in helping your blood to clot.
We tend to think of the importance of calcium in terms of babies and children. We feed them milk so their bones will grow strong and healthy.
But, in fact, bone formation and maintenance is a lifelong process, so adequate calcium is important both at the beginning of life and as you get older.
Effects of lack of calcium as you age
Bone formation is generally complete by the time a person is in their mid-twenties up to age thirty.
After that age, it’s all about maintaining the density of the bone. When a person reaches fifty, as well as sustaining bone density, there is an added risk of bone loss.
Bone loss or osteoporosis can lead to falls and fractures, in particular, the hips and wrists. Post-menopausal women and the very elderly are at most at risk of osteoporosis.
Sources of Calcium
Health professionals agree that you should be able to get adequate calcium from your daily food intake.
If you’re in one of the risk groups, there are certain foods that are considered good sources of calcium.
Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt.
Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and kale.
Fish such as salmon, pilchards and sardines. Eating the bones of smaller fish will provide you with calcium.
Other sources of calcium include tofu, nuts and bread made with fortified flour.
How Much Calcium Do You Need
Calcium is one of those nutrients where adequate amounts are good for you but too much can make you ill.
That’s probably why medical professionals recommend getting your calcium from dietary sources rather than supplements.
Exceeding recommended limits can interfere with your digestive system. It can cause bloating, constipation, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.
In some cases, too much calcium in your body can affect your blood and cause kidney damage.
Eating a varied and healthy diet should provide you with enough calcium.
Recommended daily amounts vary from country to country. In the UK 700mg is the maximum recommended dose, whereas, in the US, it’s much higher at 1200mg a day.
The World Health Organisation recommends 500mg daily. So, there’s quite a difference between the amounts, but it is generally considered by medical professionals, that 500mg to 700mg is enough.
What about Vitamin D?
Vitamin D works by regulating the amounts of both calcium and phosphate in the body.
Vitamin D is probably more beneficial to take in a supplement, particularly because it is difficult to get enough from diet alone.
This particularly true if you don’t get enough exposure to sunshine.
As well as sunshine, you can get Vitamin D from oily fish, egg yolks, liver, red meat and some fortified foods, such as cereal.
Very often it comes back to healthy eating and this is true with many vitamins and minerals.
Calcium and Vitamin D work together to keep your bones strong. Calcium can easily be obtained from food, as can Vitamin D. There may be some instances where a Vitamin D supplement is needed.
If you think you fall into this category, check with your doctor for advice.