Calcium is essential for good bone health. But are you and your family getting your recommended daily allowance of this important mineral? Studies worldwide suggest that you may not. Why do we need calcium and how does it affect our bone health?
Why do I need calcium?
It’s essential to know why your body needs calcium. Good bone health is not this mineral’s only function. Approximately 99% of the calcium currently in your body is stored in your teeth and bones, where it provides the strength and structure that promote good bone health. Bones contain many mineral complexes, but calcium, in the form of calcium phosphate, is the principal component they need to remain healthy.
Calcium is also vital in helping muscle contraction, moving nutrients across cell membranes, promoting communication between the nerves, regulating enzymes that control digestion and metabolism, blood clotting and the formation of new cells. So you can see why your body has very strict guidelines about the amount of calcium it needs to function properly.
What happens when my calcium levels are too low?
If your body has insufficient calcium to perform its many functions, it will ‘steal’ it from your bones, causing your bone health to deteriorate and your skeleton to become porous and fragile. Enter osteoporosis, the scourge of postmenopausal and older women, and men too (we talked about this in an earlier blog Six ways to protect your bones, which revealed these cautionary statistics: bone loss in women can begin as early as the age of 25. Worldwide, the lifetime risk for a woman to have an osteoporotic fracture is 30–40%. And men are not exempt.’ In South Africa, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will develop this disease within their lifetime. Currently, that translates as 4–6 million people. Rickets is another risk, as is poor blood clotting and muscle spasms.
The fact remains that, as you age, your body uses more calcium than it can make. To ward off bad bone health, you’ll need to make some easy adjustments to your diet and lifestyle.
What are the best food sources of calcium?
Despite the debates surrounding milk and calcium, one thing is clear: adequate calcium is key to maintaining bone health and other body functions. Milk may be a good source, but it is definitely not the only source. Did you know that you don’t need to drink milk at all to get adequate calcium? Yoghurt (preferably plain, organic) contains from 30-40% more calcium than milk. Other great sources include broccoli, kelp, almonds, quinoa, okra, blackstrap molasses and sardines.
Anything else I should know to improve my bone health?
Of course. Vitamin D is also critical to bone health. (An examination of clinical trials studying the role of vitamin D in the prevention of osteoporosis found that getting 700 to 800 IUs of vitamin D per day decreases the risk of hip and non-vertebral fractures.) And it seems to work even better when it’s taken in conjunction with calcium.
Vitamin K also seems to play at least one important role in calcium regulation and bone formation. You’ll find vitamin K in cabbage, kale, broccoli, bok choy and other leafy greens, and in grass-fed organic animal products (such as eggs, butter, cheese), certain fermented foods such as natto (Japanese fermented soya beans) or vegetables fermented using a starter culture of vitamin K2-producing bacteria. (In the body, vitamin K2, or menaquinone, is made by the bacteria that line your gastrointestinal tract.) K2 goes directly to your blood-vessel walls, bones and tissues other than your liver. Certain cheeses are very high in vitamin K2 (Gouda and Brie) and others are not. It really depends on the specific bacteria involved during the making of the foods. Miso and tempeh, for example, are also low in vitamin K2.
Get off your bottom!
Load bearing- and resistance exercise, also called strength-training exercise, can make bones stronger so that if you do fall down, nothing will break. Try doing 20 push-ups every day, starting with kneeling push-ups, progressing to full length over time. Do some hops, squats and lunges. These are movements we do all the time, says Patrick McDowell in Healthy Life Journal. ‘Every time you go up stairs, you are doing a mini-lunge. Every time you bend down to pick something up, you are doing a squat. Since these two movements use the largest muscles in our bodies, our quads and our glutes, strengthening these muscles will support your skeleton and make moving easier. And when moving through your day is easier, your energy will go up and you will get more done.’
Finally (we know, you’ve heard it all before), don’t smoke, drink alcohol in moderation, avoid extra salt and eat less red meat.
We hope you move freely forever…
If you’re concerned about your bone health, we recommend you take supplements or fortified foods. Flora Force DensiMax™ is a natural formula that offers good support for bone health. And consult your healthcare practitioner.
Acknowledgements & Photo credits
Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.
- Aslam, M.N, Bergin, I., et al. Preservation of bone structure and function by Lithothamnion sp.-derived minerals. Biological Trace Element Research Journal. 2013. Springer Science+Business Media.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Calcium and milk: what’s best for your bones and health? http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium-full-story/
- McDowell, P. The importance of calcium. Healthy Life Journal.org.
- National Osteoporosis Foundation South Africa. http://osteoporosis.org.za/general/index.html
- Smith, H. Calcium supplementation. South African Pharmaceutical Journal. 2011. 78:9.
- Photo courtesy of longleanna / Pixabay.com