Calcium is an essential mineral that plays a major role in constructing and strengthening your bones and teeth.
Our bodies rely on a daily nutrient intake in order to meet these needs.
Our bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. From the onset of puberty until around age 30, our bones are getting bigger and stronger. As we age, however, they tend to get weaker as bone breaks down at a faster rate than it is replaced.
We need to minimise this rate of loss to maintain strong, robust bone functioning.
What Does It Do?
Our bones rely on Calcium to grow and develop strong bone tissue. By laying down a strong bone foundation in our younger years , we will be less likely to suffer from such conditions as Osteoporosis when we age.
A plentiful supply will go a long way to ensuring that our bones are healthy and strong. Calcium is especially important for adolescents, who gain over 20% of their adult height and 50% of their adult skeletal mass during this time.
Calcium and Exercise
The fitter you are the stronger you bones will generally be. Weight bearing exercise like running is a stimulus to bone growth and strength, requiring the skeleton to adapt to the stresses that is encounters.
Similarly, weight resistance training requires the skeleton to adapt to the forces applied to it. Most people who exercise regularly with weight bearing exercises will have strong, healthy bones and will, therefore, be less likely to get Osteoporosis.
Women who train extremely hard may have an interrupted menstrual pattern. One result of this is that the body produces less Oestrogen. This prevents bones from reaching their highest mass and strength. That is why non-menstruating athletes have a lower bone mass than the average female.
Are You Deficient in Calcium?
Symptoms of deficiency are:
- Memory loss
- Muscle spasms
- Tooth decay
- Brittle nails
- Dry skin
Calcium and Vitamin D
A deficiency in Vitamin D can directly affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium. That means that, even if you are getting a sufficient amount of calcium into your body, not getting enough Vitamin D through sunlight or from the foods you eat will stop the calcium from doing it’s vital work. See our article on Vitamin D for the best dietary sources of this vitamin.
Best Sources of Calcium
The best sources are dairy products. Such foods as cheese, milk, egg yolks and yogurt are packed with it. However, those who are trying to reduce their intake of saturated fat, could opt for skim milk (beware of added sugars)
Non-dairy sources include fish with small edible bones, such as Herring and Sardines, as well as canned fish. Green leafy vegetables also contain calcium. However, spinach contains oxalates, which actually hinder calcium absorption. Soy products and dried fruits are also good sources,
- Limit your salt intake – salt increases the amount of calcium you lose in your urine
- Limit caffeine and alcohol – they both limit the amount of calcium your body can absorb
- Stop smoking – smoking increases the risk of osteoporosis by inhibiting bone cell growth
- Get regular exercise – load-bearing exercise helps to strengthen bones
When taking a supplement, check to see how much pure calcium you are getting, as opposed to the total amount of calcium in the supplement. As an example, 600 mg of calcium gluconate will only provide 55 mg of pure calcium. However 600 mg of calcium carbonate will provide 240 mg of pure calcium. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are the preferred calciums to supplement with. Aim to take in 1,000 mg of calcium per day.