Of all the nutrients our body needs, calcium is one of the most important. Not only is it essential for the growth and maintenance of your bones and teeth, it also keeps your heart, muscles and nerves in top-notch shape. Are you getting enough?
The basics on calcium
When calcium is absorbed into your body, it’s transported to your bones with the help of vitamin D (click here for the 101 on vitamin D). Once there, calcium links up with phosphorus to create the super-nutrient that gives our bones structure and strength.The bulk of a person’s growth and bone development (and the time when calcium absorption is at its peak) happens between the ages of 10 and 20 years. It slows to a trickle somewhere around age 30. After that, a draining process begins. Your body draws on the calcium stores in your bones to make sure your cardiovascular and nervous systems function properly.The result? Depleted calcium stores. That is, unless you take steps to counter the loss.
Signs and symptoms of a calcium deficiency
It’s vital you get enough calcium on a daily basis. And with recent studies suggesting that 50 percent of Americans are now calcium deficient, there is a good chance you aren’t meeting your daily calcium needs.Some early warning signs and symptoms of a calcium deficiency include:
Â· Aching joints and an increase in fractures
Â· Eczema (Try these soothing skin solutions!)
Â· Heart palpitations
Â· Brittle nails
Â· Muscle cramps
Â· Numbness in the arms and legsIf left untreated, a calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, a disease characterized by the loss of bone density and increased bone fragility.
What is the recommended daily dose of calcium?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of calcium increases with age.
Â· Children (ages 1-3): 500 mg per day
Â· Children (ages 4-8): 800 mg per day
Â· Youth (ages 9-18): 1300 mg per day
Â· Adults (ages 19-50): 1000 mg per day
Â· Adults (ages 51 or older): 1200 mg per day
Sources of calcium
Some good food sources include:
Â· Yogurt, plain, 8 oz = 415 mg
Â· Cheddar cheese, shredded, 1.5 oz = 306 mg
Â· Orange juice with calcium, 8 oz = 200 to 260 mg
Â· Salmon, bones included, 3 oz = 181 mg
Â· Tofu, firm, 1/2 cup = 138 mg
Â· Spinach, cooked, 1/2 cup = 120 mg
People at high risk for a calcium deficiency
While it’s possible for anyone to run short on this important nutrient, the following groups are at a higher risk.Teens/Young adults: Experts believe children and teens, whose calcium intakes are especially crucial for bone strength and development, are swapping calcium-rich drinks for soft drinks and, consequently, compromising their ability to meet the RDA. A deficiency in childhood sets children and teens up for weak bones later in life.Women/Post-menopausal women: Females are born with smaller, less dense bones than men, and recent studies suggest adult females only get half of their RDA of calcium. It’s also known that estrogen helps protect bones from calcium loss, meaning that after menopause, low estrogen levels leave women even more vulnerable to calcium loss. (Click for tips to reduce the symptoms of menopause.)Vegans: Because dairy products are a well-known source of calcium, vegans may need to consume twice as much of the nutrient in supplement form as non-vegans.Lactose intolerant: People suffering from lactose intolerance can’t consume large quantities of non-fermented dairy products. They should talk to their doctor about other food sources to reach their RDA.Smokers: The carcinogens in cigarettes hinder the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Many smokers wind up with very low bone density later on in life.
Tips to get more calcium in your diet
There are plenty of ways to up your daily dose of calcium without drastically altering your lifestyle. Here are three quick and easy suggestions.1. Get your daily dose of vitamin D. The more vitamin D you get (from the sun, supplements or milk), the more readily calcium will be absorbed into your blood stream and bones.2. Know how and when to take a supplement. If your diet can’t meet your calcium needs, a supplement containing Vitamin D should be taken before you go to bed (calcium does not absorb well when taken with food).3. Go easy on caffeine, sodium and alcohol. Researcher suggests that over-consumption of caffeine, sodium and/or alcohol forces the kidneys to excrete calcium instead of absorbing it.*Note: Never take more of a calcium supplement than is recommended. It could lead to kidney problems or renal failure. Be sure to consult with your doctor before taking any supplements.