At some point in time, I think everyone has heard the phrase “Milk does a body good”. Whether among pregnant women, growing children or aging adults, regular milk consumption is almost always encouraged for good health. However, the widespread promotion of milk is not so much about milk itself but more related to the body’s need for the calcium it contains.
Calcium is by far the most abundant mineral in the body.
Since approximately 99 percent of calcium is stored in bone, regular intake is critical for preserving the strength and integrity of this hard and rigid tissue. It’s important to understand that bone is actually a living tissue that’s constantly growing. That is to say, it’s continuously broken down (resorption) and built up (formation) throughout life.
Dietary calcium plays a major role in balancing this process by decreasing the breaking down of bone and retarding bone loss. In addition to its effects on bone, calcium enables numerous other bodily functions including muscle contraction, heartbeat maintenance, proper nerve functioning, and blood clotting.
Milk and other dairy products contain the most concentrated amounts of calcium and low-fat varieties generally contain more than the full-fat ones. Just 2-3 daily servings of dairy foods is all you need. This equates to an eight-ounce glass of milk, a six-ounce portion of yogurt, and a stick of string cheese. That’s it!
Now, if you’re not a fan of dairy products there are many other ways to get sufficient amounts of calcium in your diet. Soymilk and tofu, sardines, kale, fortified orange juice, and breakfast cereals are great options.
Despite all the available food sources of calcium, deficiency is very common in both children and adults alike.
Calcium deficiency essentially occurs when the body doesn’t receive enough calcium from the diet and/or is unable to properly absorb it. This can be related to aging, lifestyle factors or underlying medical conditions (kidney disease). Calcium is absorbed most efficiently when consumed in small quantities (600 mg or less) throughout the day. In addition, vitamin D is needed for proper calcium absorption.
Those at greatest risk of calcium deficiency include postmenopausal women, vegans, and individuals who are lactose intolerant.
Advancing age naturally brings about a progressive decline in bone density and calcium content, which accelerates quite rapidly among women immediately after menopause making them especially vulnerable to bone fractures. In addition to increased intake of dietary calcium, regular resistance (strength) training is known to delay this process in aging women.
People who are lactose intolerant and/or practicing vegan lifestyles may also be at increased risk, mainly due to abstinence from milk and other dairy products. The risk is even more pronounced among vegans since many of the vegetables, grains and legumes they regularly consume contain oxalic and phytic acid, which are known to greatly inhibit calcium absorption.
The short-term effects of calcium deficiency often go unnoticed, as the body will strip calcium from bone when necessary. So, you may in fact be calcium deficient without even knowing it.
This is not a good thing as prolonged calcium deficiency has drastic bone-related effects changes including, reductions in bone density, mass and strength. Such changes in bone increase the risk of osteoporosis, fractures, and, more often than not, disability. Due to its essential role in building bone, calcium deficiency can also delay the growth and development of bone and teeth in children.
All and all, it’s important to consume adequate amounts of dietary calcium throughout life in order to build and maintain healthy bones. While certain individuals may be at increased risk of calcium deficiency due to aging, lifestyle factors or underlying health conditions, the likelihood of deficiency is greatly minimized when adequate dietary calcium is obtained from foods.
In the event that you’re not getting enough calcium from food sources, you may want to consider dietary supplements. However, it’s important to check with your health care provider before starting any supplement regimen.
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Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a physician for advice.