Want healthy bones? Be sure that you are getting enough calcium! Many people—both men and women—fail to meet their recommended dietary intake of calcium. In fact, some studies show that 90% of women and 70% of men don’t consume the recommended daily allowance of calcium. To maintain optimal health, men and women aged 19-50 need 1000 mg of calcium each day; women over 50 and men over 70 need 1200 mg per day. This is especially important for women, who are at a greater risk for bone-related disorders like osteoporosis. Athletes are another group who need to pay close attention to their calcium since they need to have strong bones in order to compete at their peak!
The best way to learn about your calcium status is through a blood test. InsideTracker is a blood analysis service that measures key blood biomarkers, including calcium. If your calcium levels are too low or too high, InsideTracker gives you simple nutrition, exercise, supplement, and lifestyle interventions to improve them.
Why is calcium important?
Almost all of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth. Bones are living and growing calcified connective tissues that form the major part of your skeleton. Calcium is an important part of the “bone mineralization” process, which helps to give your skeleton its structure and strength.
In bone mineralization, small amounts of calcium are removed from and replaced in the bones. If your body doesn’t receive enough calcium through diet or supplementation, your bones become weaker. Having low calcium levels puts you at greater risk of breaks and fractures because more calcium is removed from your bones than is replaced, especially if you participate in high-impact sports such as running or gymnastics.
In addition to protecting our bones, calcium plays an important role in other physical functions, such as muscle contraction, nerve conduction, regulation of enzyme activity, and the formation of cell membranes. Maintaining proper amounts of calcium can also help prevent high blood pressure.
What happens if you don’t get enough calcium?
When you’re chronically low in calcium, your bones and teeth begin to slowly deteriorate because your body is using its calcium stores to perform other functions, such as muscle contraction and forming new cell membranes. Poor blood clotting can also occur as a result. Osteoporosis, which literally means “porous bones,” is the condition that is most often associated with inadequate calcium. If you have osteoporosis, your bones have begun to weaken. Low calcium intake is a problem for post-menopausal women, who are already at a higher risk for developing bone-related disorders. In fact, an estimated 10 million Americans, which includes eight million women and two million men, have osteoporosis.
What are some good food sources of calcium?
So, where can you get your recommended intake of calcium? When people hear “calcium,” they often think of dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, which are rich sources of calcium. Low-fat dairy products have nearly the same amount of calcium as full-fat versions. There are also good non-dairy calcium-rich foods for anyone who is sensitive to lactose, or prefers to avoid dairy products. Dark leafy greens such as kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are good sources. A three-ounce serving of canned salmon (with bones) provides nearly 20% of the daily requirement. And, if you’re looking for new calcium-rich foods to add to your diet, try kelp, quinoa, and okra. Your InsideTracker Nutrition and Food Basket pages offer lots of great suggestions for foods that will help you to improve your calcium levels.
What factors can affect calcium absorption?
Food, age, alcohol consumption, and vitamins can all affect how efficiently your body absorbs calcium. Taking a vitamin D supplement with food can enhance your body’s ability to absorb calcium. In fact, studies have shown that athletes who are older than 60 who take vitamin D with calcium can improve their strength, physical performance, and reduce the incidence of falls. While vitamin D improves absorption, many other factors make it harder for your body to metabolize calcium. Oxalic acid, which occurs naturally in dark leafy vegetables, binds to calcium and inhibits its absorption by the body. The amount of oxalic acid in greens varies. So, if you’re trying to increase your consumption of calcium-rich foods or taking a calcium supplement, try not to eat foods like spinach, parsley, and rhubarb at the same time you are consuming calcium. Here are some other factors that can influence calcium absorption:
- Age – your body’s ability to absorb calcium decreases as you age, so older adults need to consume more each day.
- Caffeine intake – the stimulant in coffee and tea can moderately increase calcium excretion and reduce absorption. For instance, one cup of regular brewed coffee causes a loss of 2-3 mg of calcium.
- Alcohol intake – alcohol can reduce calcium absorption and inhibit certain liver enzymes that help convert vitamin D to its active form. However, the amount of alcohol that is needed to affect calcium status is unknown.
What about calcium supplements?
If you feel you aren’t getting enough calcium from foods, you may want to consider taking a calcium supplement. Calcium supplements come in two forms: calcium citrate or calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is dependent on stomach acid for absorption, so this form is more readily absorbed while taken with food. Conversely, calcium citrate, which is less common in supplement form, is absorbed equally well with or without food. Another thing to keep in mind with calcium supplements is the amount of elemental calcium. You can find this information on the supplement facts label on the bottle, but in general, calcium carbonate is 40% calcium by weight, whereas citrate is 21% calcium. The percentage of calcium that is absorbed by the body depends on the total amount of elemental calcium consumed at one time—as the amount increases, the percentage of absorption decreases. Absorption is highest in doses that are less than or equal to 500 mg, so if you’re taking a 1,000 mg/day of calcium supplement, take 500 mg at two separate times during the day.
Before starting to take a supplement, be sure to talk to your doctor. It’s important not to take too much calcium in supplement form. If you frequently take large amounts of calcium, you could be putting yourself at risk for hypercalcemia, which can result in decreased kidney function and calcification of red blood cells. Symptoms of hypercalcemia can include frequent urination, bone pain, fatigue, and constipation. So when it comes to calcium intake, more is not necessarily better. In fact, pre-menopausal women who take high amounts of calcium are at an increased risk for hip fractures.
Since calcium plays such an important role in your health and physical performance, sign up for an InsideTracker plan today to find out what your calcium levels are and how to optimize them! Click here to view the free InsideTracker tour.