The Bone Nutrients: Calcium

Calcium is the most widely discussed bone-healthy nutrient… and for good reason! It is an essential mineral that serves as the main building block for strong bones, where 99% of the mineral is stored. Did you know that calcium also plays a role in muscle contraction, transmitting nerve impulses, blood clotting, and communication between body cells?

It is clear that calcium is critical for your overall wellbeing, and in order to perform all of these important duties, you need calcium levels between 8.5 and 10.2 mg/dL in your blood. These levels are usually maintained through your daily intake of calcium-rich foods and supplements. If you do not get enough calcium, your body will start pulling calcium from the only place it is stored… your bones! Over time, this can lead to brittle bones and fractures.

How Much Calcium Do You Need?

Despite the importance of calcium, studies dating back to 2009-2012 have shown that 19.6% of adults do not get the recommended daily amount even if they take a vitamin/mineral supplement! This number only gets worse for those who DO NOT take any supplements, where 37.7% of adults are calcium deficient!

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium is 1000-1200mg for both men and women. The safe “upper limit” for calcium intake is between 2000-2500mg each day. This means that taking mega-doses of calcium will NOT improve your bones, but WILL increase your risk for side effects. Calcium intake higher than the RDA can lead to an upset stomach, kidney stones, calcification of your arteries, and poor absorption of iron and thyroid hormone medications.

Helpful Hints For Meeting Your Calcium Needs

  • Your body can only absorb 500mg of calcium in one sitting, so you need to divide your calcium intake throughout the day.
  • Calcium citrate and calcium carbonate are both acceptable forms of calcium. If you take medications to reduce stomach acid (Omeprazole, Ranitidine), calcium citrate is preferred since it is better absorbed in low acidity environments.
  • If you experience an upset stomach with calcium pills, consider taking TUMs instead.
  • Strive to get at least 50% of your daily calcium through foods in your diet.
  • Calcium is found in a variety of foods, including milk, yogurt, cheese, dark green vegetables, nuts, breads, soy beans, and fortified cereals.
  • Vitamin D and magnesium help you absorb calcium, so be sure to get enough of these nutrients as well.

Calcium Deficiency Has Been Associated With These Health Conditions

  • Osteoporosis
  • Dental Problems
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Colon Cancer

Calcium and Your Bones

The relationship between calcium and your bones has been well documented over the years. Calcium is the primary building block for healthy bones and is a key component in preventing and treating osteoporosis. Let’s take a look at some of the key research findings over the past several years.

  • Calcium MAY decrease your risk of breaking bones. The US Preventive Services Task Force did a review of many studies consisting of 52,915 men and women. Those who supplemented vitamin D (300-1,000 IU/day) and calcium (500-1,200 mg/day) for up to seven years had a 12% decreased risk of fractures.
  • Calcium can slow bone loss over time. One collection of studies demonstrated that increasing dietary calcium improved bone density by an average of 1% throughout the body after only 1 year. A study extending 7 years showed that bone loss will still occur with increased calcium intake, however, it will be at a slower pace than those who do not get enough calcium. People in this study who got the recommended amount of calcium lost 1.06% less hip bone density than those who did not consume enough calcium.

What conclusions can we draw from the research on calcium? Calcium remains one of our primary weapons used to slow bone loss over time. For some with a low risk of breaking bones, this may prevent osteoporosis and be the only required treatment! For others with a high fracture risk, calcium should be one piece of a multi-faceted approach to treating osteoporosis.

How Can You Get More Calcium Through Your Diet?

Calcium is without question the most important mineral for strong, healthy bones. With as many as 37% of adults not getting in calcium on a daily basis, we have some room for improvement! Dairy products are your biggest bang-for-your-buck when it comes to calcium. However, calcium can be found in a variety of food sources. Check out the list below to see how much calcium can be found in different types of foods.

  • Tofu (1/2 cup): 434 mg
  • Yogurt (8 ounces): 415 mg
  • Sardines (1 can): 351 mg
  • Cheddar Cheese (1.5 ounces): 303 mg
  • Milk (8 ounces): 300 mg
  • White Beans (1/2 cup): 81 mg
  • Orange (1 medium): 60 mg
  • Kale (1/2 cup): 47 mg
  • Pinto Beans (1/2 cup): 39 mg
  • Broccoli (1/2 cup): 31 mg