Our bodies need calcium, though not necessarily milk, as the TV commercial says. Calcium is actually found in many foods besides milk and dairy. We need calcium to maintain our bones and to carry out some body functions. Almost all of your calcium is stored in your bones and teeth.
Our bodies need calcium for our muscles to move and for our nerves to carry messages between the brain and every body part. We also need calcium to move blood throughout the body. Calcium also releases hormones and enzymes that affect almost every bodily function.
The eternal question is how much calcium is needed. It depends on age, sex, and physical condition.
Birth to 6 months 200 mg
Infants 7-12 months 260 mg
Children 1-3 years 700 mg
Children 4-8 years 1000 mg
Children 9-13 years 1300 mg
Teens 14-18 years 1300 mg
Adults 19-50 years 1000 mg
Adult men 51-70 years 1000 mg
Adult women 51-70 years 1200 mg
Adults 71 years + 1200 mg
Pregnant and breastfeeding teens 1300 mg
Pregnant and breastfeeding adults 1000 mg
The best food sources for calcium are fortunately found in a wide variety of foods, including: Milk, yogurt, and cheese Kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage Fish with soft bones (canned sardines and salmon) Most grains (bread, pasta, unfortified cereal) only because people eat them in large amounts Calcium fortified breakfast cereals, juices, soy, and rice beverages.
A super food?
Many of us take supplements, in case we cannot handle a big can of sardines. Here is the skinny:
The two most commonly available calcium dietary supplements are the carbonate and citrate salts. Calcium carbonate is less expensive, but absorbed best when taken with food. Some OTC antacids, like Tums and Rolaids contain the carbonate salt, providing between 200 to 400 mg of calcium.
The citrate form is more expensive, and better absorbed squally well on an empty stomach or a full stomach. But those fo you with low levels of stomach acid (usually those over 50) absorb the calcium citrate better than the carbonate form. Other forms of calcium are the gluconate, lactate and phosphate salts. Forget that crazy stuff about calcium from coral.
I did not know that absorption is better when not more than 500 mg is taken at one time. If you are consuming 1000 mg a day, it should be split into two doses rather than taken all at once. In addition, calcium supplements may cause gas, bloating and constipation.
The most likely people to get short-changed food-wise on their calcium intake are 1) girls aged 9 to 18 years, 2) women older than 50 years, and 3) men older than 70 years. When total calcium intake from food and supplements are considered, only the adolescent girls fall short. And some older women get too much!
What happens to those who do not take or eat enough calcium? Well, the results are hardly noticeable in the short-term since our bodies maintain calcium levels by taking it from your bones. However, longer term, the result can be osteopenia (low bones mass), with increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
A severe calcium deficiency can result in numbness and tingling in the extremities, convulsions, abnormal EKGs, and even death when not corrected. These symptoms rear their ugly head in people with serious health problems, or those who are undergoing medical treatments, like chemotherapy.
It is no secret that our bones need calcium and vitamin D, from childhood and adolescence to reach our peak strength at age 30. After that magical time, our bones start to lose calcium, though we can reduce these losses by taking the recommended amounts of calcium through our adult years. This includes an active lifestyle that includes weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and running.
Osteoporosis is primarily a bone disease in older women, where the bones become porous, fragile, and prone to fracture. It affects more than 10 million adults in the U.S. Regular exercise, along with calcium and vitamin D will help keep bones healthy throughout life.
Kidney stones are rich in calcium. Higher intake of calcium in some older adults are linked to kidney stones. But calcium rich food does not appear to cause kidney stones. Adequate fluids appear to have a larger effect on the risk of kidney stones than calcium intake.
Low fat dairy products are preferable to regular dairy products, and may reduce blood pressure. There are no clear answers to date on whether calcium might lower the risk of developing cancer of the colon or rectum. There is also no link between calcium and heart disease or stroke.
Too much calcium can cause constipation. It can also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron and zinc. In adults, too much calcium may increase the risk of kidney stones. Some older women get calcium above the safe upper limit. Over the age of 51, the upper limit for adults is 2000 mg.
Over the past ten years, there has been increased interest in Vitamin D. Quite simply, the body needs Vitamin D to absorb calcium. D is needed to make the hormone calcitrol, allowing the body to absorb calcium from our diet. D is obtained three ways: through the skin (you sun worshipers like this), from your diet, or from dietary supplements. The recommended daily dose for adults up to age 70 is 600 IU (international units). At 70, the intake should go up to 800 IU. (The upper limit is 4000 IU daily).
So, if you want to avoid sunbathing, where might you find some D? Some D rich foods are egg yolks, saltwater fish, mushrooms, alfalfa, liver and milk (you have noticed that D is added to milk).
The easy solution is to start eating sardines. If you want to keep your friends, buy a good calcium with vitamin D supplement and get lots of exercise.