Getting optimal levels of calcium for good bone health?



Calcium: An important mineral

There are several minerals known to be essential to the human body and which we must get from our food: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride and potassium are present in large amounts in the body, or are needed in the largest quantities.

Their main functions are as components of the skeleton, as salts which help control the composition of body fluids, and as essential catalysts for the action of enzymes and other proteins.

What is it and what does it do?

Calcium, (from the Latin calx, meaning “limestone”) was known as early as the first century when the ancient Romans prepared lime as calcium oxide.

Combined with phosphate, calcium forms the mineral portion of human and animal bones and teeth. In fact, 99% of the calcium in the human body is stored in the bones and teeth, with the remaining 1% found in the blood and other tissues.

It’s a vital ingredient for normal growth and development, and a deficiency in calcium can result in stunted growth and fractures, among many other problems.

Not just for bones and teeth

Aside from its requirements for bones and teeth, the body needs calcium for transmitting nerve impulses and regulating heartbeat, for muscle contraction and fluid balance within the cells, and for producing lymphatic fluids.

Calcium and vitamin K support the formation of blood clots, so if your blood is lacking these nutrients, it’ll take longer than normal to clot. If they’re missing entirely, you could bleed to death!

How does the body get calcium?

The body gets the calcium it needs in two ways. One is by eating foods that contain it. Good sources may include dairy products but unfortunately, many people are lactose intolerant, which means they are allergic to dairy.

The best source of calcium is therefore plants, including tofu (if prepared using calcium sulphate, it contains more than four times the calcium of whole cow's milk); seaweeds; green leafy vegetables; watercress; seeds; dried figs; and nuts.

The calcium in green vegetables like kale is absorbed as well or even better than the calcium from cow's milk.

How much do you need?

Adults need between 1,000 and 1,300 mg of calcium in their daily diet, but only 20-30% of calcium in the average diet is absorbed, and in the U.S., between about 50% and 75% of adults do not get enough of it from what they eat.

That means the body has to resort to the other way of getting it – by extracting it from bones.

This happens when blood levels of calcium drop too low, and calcium is then "borrowed" from the bones, and replaced later. But, the replacement doesn't always happen, and most importantly, it definitely doesn’t happen as a result of simply eating more calcium.

Drawing calcium away from the bones can cause the bone disease osteoporosis, or "porous bones," a major cause of bone fractures in the elderly. One in four British people has it, as do an estimated 10 million Americans.

Another 34 million Americans have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. It’s caused by the weakening of bones from an imbalance between bone-building and bone destruction.

Start preventive measures early

As usual with health conditions, it’s better prevented than treated, and prevention includes getting an adequate intake of calcium throughout life, but especially in childhood and young adulthood. Having a good calcium intake and maximizing bone stores during the time when bone is rapidly deposited (up to age 30) provides an important foundation for the future.

That’s where a good quality calcium supplement will come in handy!

Unfortunately, supplementing in the early years still won’t completely prevent bone loss later in life.

People typically lose bone as they age, despite consuming the recommended intake of calcium. In healthy individuals who get enough calcium and physical activity, bone production exceeds bone destruction up to about age 30, but after that, destruction typically exceeds production. Luckily, after that point, supplements can come to the rescue yet again!

Choosing the right calcium supplement

In choosing a supplement, it might be helpful to look for one that combines calcium with vitamin D, which plays a critical role in maintaining bone health.

When blood levels of calcium begin to drop, the body promotes the conversion of vitamin D into its active form, which then travels to the intestines (to encourage greater calcium absorption into the blood) and to the kidneys (to minimize calcium loss in the urine).

So for bone health, an adequate intake of vitamin D is no less important than calcium.

Look for an inclusion of magnesium

It also might be wise to look out for a calcium supplement that includes magnesium.

Along with phosphorus, magnesium follows a close second behind calcium as the most common mineral in the body. It has an important role in energy production, cell reproduction, metabolism and nerve function, and it stops calcium getting into the blood vessel and heart cells, reducing blood pressure.

It’s necessary for hormonal activity and may help prevent diabetes. Despite all this, magnesium deficiency is common in the West and is often underestimated!

So it really is important to take a good quality calcium supplement, perhaps with magnesium, and vitamin D. Make sure the supplements you buy are of the highest quality and from a reliable supplier.

The truth is that with supplements, you get what you pay for, and good supplements are worth their weight in gold, particularly when it comes to the health of your bones.

Medical references: 73,74,75,76,77,78

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