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"Whether you get enough calcium and build adequate bone mass early in life or not, your body will start reabsorbing bone from your skeleton during your perimenopausal and postmenopausal years, which can lead to osteoporosis," says Ethel Siris, MD, director of the Toni Stabile Center for Osteoporosis in New York City.
“If you enter menopause with a lower bone mass, obviously you’ll be at a disadvantage,” notes Dr Siris. The body uses the reabsorbed bone to keep your blood calcium at a healthy level to sustain life.
How much calcium do we need?
Throughout one’s entire life, this mineral is important, but over time, the body’s requirements for calcium change.
For those 50 years or younger, the daily calcium requirement through food or additional supplements is 1,000mg. Older than 50 years the requirement increases to 1,500mg per day.
1,500mg of calcium daily seems like a lot, however the abundance of natural foods containing this mineral is fabulous. Dairy products are high in calcium, followed by calcium fortified juices, breads and cereals.
By simply consuming three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, or calcium fortified soy milk or orange juice will provide more than 1,000mg of calcium. Once adding the calcium contained in other foods such as legumes and salad greens, the daily requirement is easily met. However, if you do not have this quality of diet each and every day, a supplement of calcium would more than likely be needed.
Are calcium supplements required?
It is okay to take supplements. The majority of women 40 yrs plus do not get enough calcium in their everyday diet, as either they don’t enjoy the taste of dairy, or for many they find them difficult to digest, or another factor is the thought that they are fattening. Therefore, take supplements if your diet is not rich in calcium content foods.
The body does not fully absorb the full amount of calcium consumed. For example, a glass of milk contains about 300mg of calcium, and when added with a 600mg supplement, you would imagine that you have taken in 900mg of calcium. In fact, the body has absorbed less and will excrete the remainder.
Beware when taking the traditional calcium supplements as often they may be too much. The body is only able to absorb a certain amount of calcium at once, and the excess is excreted, therefore taking the mineral in several doses throughout the day will optimise absorption.
Chewable supplements are available such as Tums, an antacid which is calcium based. Another is Viactiv soft chews. These supplements could be chewed several times each day to supplement the calcium intake from the diet.
Look out for the robbers
Unfortunately there are certain things which will deplete the amount of calcium in the body. These are protein, salt and caffeine.
We need to protect the calcium that is absorbed, and to do this we should cut back on fast foods, processed foods, canned foods, packet chips, pickles and any products that are high in salt.
Reducing the amount of coffee per day to two cups is recommended, however if adding milk to the coffee, some of calcium is being replenished.
Tips to preserve calcium through lifestyle
The absorption of calcium is assisted with Vitamin D, therefore a little sunlight each day is recommended. This is because sunlight on the skin produces Vitamin D in the body, which in turn helps the calcium absorption process.
If you are unable to get a daily dose of sunlight (10 minutes is all that is needed) it may be wise to take a multivitamin containing Vitamin D, or a calcium supplement with Vitamin D. What do you do if you go out in the sun? Wear Sunscreen!
Crucial to maintaining healthy bones, is exercise. Resistance training or strength training, and weight bearing exercise is essential for maintaining bone mass and avoiding the onset of osteoporosis. Adding exercise which involves activities such as walking, running, gardening and strength training using weights for resistance are all important to strengthen the bones and maintain healthy bone mass.
Cigarette smoking is damaging to the bones as the habit lowers oestrogen levels which in turn speeds up the levels of bone loss. Smoking has also been found to reduce the amount of calcium which is absorbed into the body.
Alcohol intake is also known to reduce the ability of the bones to absorb calcium. Having more than two serves of alcohol will be detrimental to the calcium absorption process.
The majority of women 40 yrs plus can prevent osteoporosis by choosing a healthier lifestyle including a well balanced nutritional diet, partaking in both aerobic and strength training exercise, reducing the amount of alcohol consumed and avoiding cigarette smoking. Supplementation may still be required for certain vitamins and minerals to optimum health.