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There is no better way to care for your bones than by ensuring that you get enough calcium and vitamin D each day. But how much is exactly enough? Knowing what to eat, when to take supplements, how to combine calcium with vitamin D and other factors can cause confusion, yet with a little research you can develop a plan to make sure your bones are getting the nutrients they need to stay strong.
Your gender, age, health status, and diet all play significant roles in helping determine how much calcium you need and whether supplements are right for you. It is also essential that you get enough vitamin D—if you are lacking adequate vitamin D, your calcium intake will offer your bones only limited benefit.
Bone loss increases as you age. The following age-by-age guidelines can help you decide what is best for you and your family. Check with your doctor to make sure your calcium and vitamin D intake goals match your individual health needs.
Childhood and Adolescence
During these prime bone-building years, kids need more calcium than when they are fully grown. Luckily, during this stage of development, the body is best able retain calcium, and supplements are not usually necessary unless your child has a particularly low calcium intake from his or her diet.
Reproductive Years (For Women)
While pregnancy and breastfeeding require a large amount of calcium for the fetus to grow properly and to produce breast milk, the body adapts to this high need, virtually regardless of how much calcium the mother takes, unless the mother is under age 21 years old and/or has a particularly low-calcium diet, in which case supplementation or increasing calcium intake through diet, is crucial. Studies have shown that usually within three months after breastfeeding ends, any reductions in a mother’s bone density have reversed.
Your bone mass is likely to remain stable from early adulthood until about age 50 in men and menopause in women. Women generally lose 2-3% of bone during the first five years after menopause and then at a rate of about 1% per year. Men lose bone more slowly, with the most dramatic bone loss occurring after age 70. As you reach the stage of life when you bone density starts to decrease, it is time to pay extra attention to how much calcium is in the foods and beverages you regularly consume and to consider calcium and vitamin D supplements.
Nutrition and Exercise
Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt will give you with the most significant amount of calcium per serving, but you can also find calcium in bony fish, legumes, some types of nuts and foods fortified with calcium, such as soy beverages, orange juice and breakfast cereals. If you are concerned about the saturated fat content in dairy products, low-fat varieties are usually easy to find in most supermarkets and will provide you with as much or even more calcium as their higher-fat counterparts.
If you are a vegetarian, particularly a vegan, pay special attention to how much calcium you are getting. In addition to having a possible decreased intake of dairy products, vegetarians may eat more soybeans, spinach and beans, which contain dietary constituents that can interfere with calcium absorption. This does not mean you should avoid these healthy foods, but that you might need to take a calcium supplement to protect your bones.
Resistance (weight-bearing) training is another great way to complement your high calcium and vitamin D diet to increase your bone strength. This type of exercise is more likely to have an effect on bones in the specific parts of the body you isolate during resistance training, while calcium and vitamin D intake have a greater generalized effect on your bones.
In theory, if your diet and lifestyle include enough calcium, vitamin D and exercise, you do not need to take supplements. But in reality, this regimen can be difficult to maintain over the long-term, particularly as you get older. When you are checking how much calcium is in a supplement, make sure to find out what kind of supplement it is. Calcium carbonate, for example, needs an acid environment for absorption but calcium citrate does not. Luckily, calcium supplements have generally mild or no side effects and do not usually interfere with the absorption of other nutrients. Some research has shown that taking calcium supplements at night is most effective, while other studies suggest that dividing your intake of supplements into two doses per day is best. Keep abreast of new research and maintain an ongoing dialogue with your doctor to make the best of your supplements.
Health issues and/or medications can affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium and require careful consideration when deciding how to best make use of supplements. If you are taking bisphosphonate drugs or selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), calcium supplements are highly recommended, but of course must be tailored to your particular health needs. If you have or are at risk for hypercalcemia or hypercalciuria or if kidney problems are affecting your calcium absorption level, it is imperative that you speak with your doctor before adding supplements.
No matter how old you are or what your individual health circumstances may be, never hesitate to contact American Bone Health and to talk to a healthcare professional for further information about how to develop a plan for optimal calcium and vitamin D intake. Your bones deserve your attention, and when cared for properly, they will bring you the long-term well-being you deserve.
· Kerrie M Sanders, Caryl A. Nowson, Mark A. Kotowicz, Kathryn Briffa, Amanda Devine and Ian R. Reid: “Calcium and bone health: position statement for the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia and the Endocrine Society of Australia.”
· Jonathan Cluett, MD, Orthopedics Guide