Calcium – A vital mineral
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It receives much emphasis because an adequate intake helps grow a healthy skeleton in early life And helps minimize bone loss in later life.
Ninety percent of the body’s calcium is in the bones (and teeth), where it plays two roles. First, it is an integral part of bone structure, providing a rigid frame that holds the body upright and serves as attachment points for muscles, making motion possible. Second, it serves as a calcium bank, offering a readily available source of the mineral to the body fluids when a drop in blood levels of calcium occurs.
Many people have the idea that once a bone is built, it is inert like a rock. Actually, the bones are gaining and losing minerals continuously in an ongoing process of remodeling. Growing children gain more bone than they lose, and healthy adults maintain a reasonable balance. When withdrawals substantially exceed deposits, problems such as osteoporosis develop.
The formation of teeth follows a pattern similar to that of bones. The turnover of minerals in teeth is not as rapid as in bone; however, fluoride hardens and stabilizes the crystals of teeth, opposing the withdrawals of minerals from them.
Calcium also plays a critical rile in supporting the body’s vital functions; such as controlling blood pressure and maintaining the heart beat also.
Not just Calcium, Vitamin D is also important
The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium properly. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight. Vitamin D is also available in oily fish and eggs.
How much calcium is recommended each day?
To promote strong bones throughout life, it is recommended that everyone, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, observes the following daily calcium intakes (to include dietary calcium plus any calcium supplement taken.)
Infants – 500 mg
Children – 400 mg
Adolescents – 600 mg
Adults – 500 mg
Pregnant women – 1000 mg
Lactating mothers – 1000 mg
Do elderly people require more of calcium?
There is a need to maintain 800 mg/day throughout. But for females 1 to 1.5 g a day will reduce the likelihood of osteoporosis.
How do we keep our bones healthy?
A variety of factors contribute to healthy bones.
- Diet – a varied, well-balanced diet is important to build and maintain healthy bones. A combination of bread and cereals, fruit and vegetables, milk and dairy products, and protein (from meat, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds) should provide the nutrients that your body needs. Foods rich in calcium are especially valuable for healthy bones.
- Exercise – weight-bearing exercise helps to promote bone formation and bone health. Good exercises include running, skipping, aerobics, tennis, weight training and brisk walking.
- Lifestyle – smoking can have a harmful effect on bone. Alcohol too can cause harm.
Which foods contain calcium?
- Milk, especially skimmed milk
- Dairy products, such as cheese and yoghurt
- Soya bean products
- All green leafy vegetables (such a spinach)
- Figs and dried fruits
- Sea foods
- Egg yolk
- Rajmah and Blackgram dhal
What decreases calcium intake?
- Caffeine – too much caffeine can affect the balance of calcium in the body – add milk to your coffee to counteract the effect or try to cut down the amount of caffeine you consume.
- Salt – if we consume a lot of salt, it can increase the amount of calcium excreted through urine. One should not eat more than 6g of salt per day.
- Fizzy drinks – these contain a lot of phosphate, which is used to improve the flavor. Too much phosphate may cause the body to breakdown calcium.
What happens when we consume excess amount of Calcium?
If we consume more calcium than recommends, there is no proof that it will benefit the bones. High calcium intakes on a regular basis may be harmful. The adverse effects of excessive calcium intake may include high blood calcium levels, kidney complications and kidneys stone formation.
When sufficient calcium is not supplied, pregnant women lose calcium from their body tissues to supply the needs of the fetus.
Similarly, nursing mothers need calcium and phosphorus for the formation of milk. In calcium deficiency bones of women get porous and either bend or break with the weight of the body. The teeth are also affected and the blood does not clot normally.
In children lack of calcium affects their growth adversely.
Calcium’s most famous role in disease prevention is in building strong bones to protect against osteoporosis. As important as calcium may be to bone health, osteoporosis is not a calcium deficiency disease comparable to iron deficiency anemia. In iron deficiency anemia, high iron intakes reliably reverse the condition; in osteoporosis, however, high calcium intakes alone during adulthood may do little or nothing to reverse bone loss. An adequate calcium intake early in life helps most to grow a healthy skeleton that can defend itself against bone loss in later life.
Habits to be watched
Some habits in the teenage years can steal calcium from your bones or increase the need for it, weakening the bones for life.
- Skipping meals is risky for bone. In our three-meal-a-day pattern, skipping a meal may reduce by a third your chance of getting the required calcium – simply by eliminating one occasion to eat.
- Replacing milk with nondairy drinks like aerated drinks, fruit-flavored teas or drinks is another eating habit that prevents bones from getting the calcium and other nutrients they need.
- Alcohol abuse can cause loss of calcium, magnesium and zinc in the urine. Many who abuse alcohol also have poor diets and malnourished, weaker bones.
- Cigarette smoke is also toxic to bone because it affects your stamina.
- Eating disorders can weaken bone. The repeated vomiting in bulimia and extreme dieting in the appetite disorder anorexia can upset the body’s balance of calcium and important hormones like bone-protective estrogen, decreasing bone density.
- Extreme exercising by young women with or without eating disorders can postpone or stop menstruation, when blood levels of estrogen are reduced.
Healthy eating is about learning which foods to eat to stay well. But it is also about integrating a balance and variety of different foods into an enjoyable daily routine!
Check out the Calcium content!
|Khoa (Cows’ milk)
|Dried Fruits and Nuts Agathi
Article written by :
Dr. S. Bhuvaneswari
Chief Dietitian, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai