Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones: Why You Need Calcium

When you’re a kid, calcium seems to be a big part of your wellness regime. It makes sense; growing kids have growing bones, and those bones need a calcium-strengthening boost. However, your need for this mineral doesn’t end when you’ve finished puberty – it’s only just begun!


Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body, accounting for 2½ pounds of your weight! The vast majority (99%) is in your bones and teeth, but there’s a bit knocking around in your muscles, tissues and body fluids. Therefore, you might be forgiven for thinking that calcium is only useful for building bones, but Robert Heaney, MD, a professor of medicine at Creighton University, in Omaha, notes, ‘it’s used by every cell and tissue in the body’. So what does calcium do for your wellbeing?


1. Building bones. This becomes even more important as you age, as older women are more prone to fractures and a bone-weakening disease known as osteoporosis.


2. Muscle contractions. This includes the muscles you use consciously (such as your biceps) and those you use unconsciously (like your heart).


3. Heart health. According to a study at the Harvard School of Public Health, published in 2008, getting the right amount of calcium could lower your risk of hypertension.


4. Weight loss. Researchers at the University of Tennessee, in Knoxville, have noted that attaining your recommended daily allowance of calcium through dairy products may help you to burn fat faster than people who don’t.


5. Cancer prevention. The National Institutes of Health have released research which suggests that an adequate intake of calcium may lower your risk of colorectal cancer.


So how much is enough? As an adult, you need 1,000-1,200mg of calcium a day – unless you’re pregnant; pregnancy makes your body more efficient at absorbing calcium, so you only need 1,000mg daily. However, as you age, your body is less able to absorb calcium, so you should be aiming for 1,200mg every day once you reach the age of 51 or menopause. Your body will excrete any calcium it can’t use, but you should still go no higher than 2,500mg a day, as this can have a negative impact on your kidney wellness.


You can get your daily calcium needs from dairy products, which is the best place to find it. a cup of non-fat milk can give you 302mg, while a cup of low-fat yoghurt can add an extra 245-415mg. Still, if you’re not the biggest dairy fan or you’re lactose intolerant, there are other foods that are bursting with calcium; namely, cooked kale (94mg per cup), raw broccoli (42mg) or three ounces of canned sardines (with bones) in oil (324mg). There are also foods that have been fortified with the mineral, such as breakfast cereals, juices, and many soya products.


However, we can’t talk about calcium without mentioning it’s vitamin BFF: vitamin D. This vitamin helps your body to absorb calcium, but more often than not we’re deficient in vitamin D. Your body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight, so it’s not hard to see why getting sufficient amounts is difficult in this country! Try to spend 10 to 15 minutes outdoors two to three times a week when the sun is shining or, again, turn to fortified foods. If that fails, you can take a supplement to gain your daily intake of 400 I.U. You may also want to consider supplements for your calcium intake if you’re on a low-calorie diet or deficient in the mineral. Remember, you need to consult your GP before taking any new supplement.


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