~ Health Advice from PMGH – The Importance of Getting Enough Calcium In Your Diet – Part 1 of 3 ~

What is Calcium?
Calcium is just one of the essential ingredients for taking care of your bones and teeth. Most of the body’s calcium (around 99%) is found in the skeleton and teeth – the rest is stored in the tissues or blood and is essential for building and maintaining bone. Calcium combines with other minerals to form hard crystals that give your bones strength and structure and also plays a crucial role in other systems of the body, such as the health and functioning of nerves and muscle tissue.
A small amount of calcium is absorbed into the blood, which is essential for the healthy functioning of the heart, muscles, and nerves. Your bones act like a calcium bank, if you do not take in enough calcium from your diet, the body will withdraw calcium from your ‘bone bank’ to use in other parts of the body. If your body withdraws more calcium than it deposits, your bone density (bone strength) will gradually decline and you may be at risk of developing osteoporosis (brittle bones).
Good sources of calcium include dairy foods like milk, yoghurt and cheese, and calcium-fortified products, such as soymilk and breakfast cereals as well as some vegetables. People receive most of their calcium from dairy foods however if milk is removed from the diet, it can lead to an inadequate intake of calcium which is a concern for children and adolescents, who have high calcium needs. The best way to get the daily-recommended level of calcium intake for your age is to eat calcium-rich foods, or talk to your doctor about a calcium supplement.
For people diagnosed with osteoporosis calcium alone is not sufficient to prevent fractures. Osteoporosis treatment is also required; your doctor will advise you on what is right for you.
Role of Calcium In The Body –
– Strengthening bones and teeth
– Regulating muscle functioning, such as contraction and relaxation
– Regulating heart functioning
– Blood clotting
– Transmission of nervous system messages
– Enzyme function
What happens if I don’t get enough calcium?
If the body is not getting enough calcium circulating in the blood, it will use hormones to reduce the amount put out by the kidneys in the urine. If not enough calcium is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract, calcium will be taken from the bones. If your dietary intake of calcium is constantly low, your body will eventually remove so much calcium from the skeleton that your bones will become weak and brittle.
Lifestyle Can Affect Bone Strength –
Some of the factors that can reduce calcium in your bones and lower bone density (weaken bones) include:
– High salt diet
– More than six drinks per day of caffeine-containing drinks
– Excessive alcohol intake
– Very low body weight
– Very high intakes of fibre
– Low levels of physical activity
– Low levels of vitamin D
– Smoking
Remember – It is much better to get calcium from foods (which also provide other nutrients) then from calcium supplements. If you have difficulty eating enough foods rich in calcium to reach the daily requirements for optimal health, you might need to consider a calcium supplement. Talk with your doctor.
Tip – It is important to keep up to date with regular health checks at your local urban health clinic.