Calcium is a mineral important to everyone, especially women. Calcium plays an important role in bone health. The body stores most of the calcium that it consumes in bones and teeth, while some of it is stored in blood and the tissues of your body. Our bodies are able to monitor their calcium content and remove calcium from the bones if needed.
The Role Of Calcium
Calcium helps the body to strengthen teeth and bones and also plays a role in enzyme function, blood clotting, the nervous system, heart function, and muscle function.
Although the body stores most of its calcium in the bones (keeping them strong) it can regulate the level of calcium in the blood. If the body realises that there is less calcium in the bloodstream, as compared to what there should be, it can signal to the body to hold onto as much calcium as it can (usually by restricting the amount the kidneys excrete). Calcium can also be removed from the bones to be taken elsewhere in the body if there is not enough calcium digested and absorbed from your food. Over time, a decreased intake of calcium can lead to even more calcium being taken from your bones and this can leave them brittle and prone to fracture.
Osteoporosis Later In Life
Strong bones help to reduce the risk of falls and injuries later in life, although osteoporosis is a major health issue, especially for women. Osteoporosis occurs when the bones become thinner and have less strength. This leads to more falls and more fractures. A low calcium intake throughout life can increase the risk of osteoporosis as peak bone mass may not be reached in growing years. The higher your peak bone mass, the lower your risk of osteoporosis.
Women who are pregnant must also be aware of their calcium intake. The growing foetus needs calcium to support the growth and development of its own skeleton. Although pregnant women are not advised to consume any more calcium than non-pregnant women of the same age, they should still include a number of calcium rich food sources in their diet regularly.
In Australia, it is thought that around 90% of women do not consume the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of calcium (Australian Nutrition Survey). Although supplements of calcium are available it is better try and consume calcium from food sources first.
Sources Of Calcium
Probably the most well known source of calcium is dairy products. This includes milk and milk products (like cheese, yoghurt, sour cream). Calcium is also found in some leafy green vegetables but the body may not absorb as much of the calcium, and you would need to eat a very large portion of these to get a significant amount of calcium. Canned fish with bones (for example sardines) also contain calcium, as does soy and tofu (look for fortified products). Nuts, including almonds and brazil nuts also contain some calcium. You can also use other foods, like breakfast cereals which have been fortified with calcium.
Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth, and women in particular must be careful to ensure that they consume calcium rich foods regularly as this may help reduce their risk of osteoporosis later in life. If you need help with your calcium intake, contact a dietitian or nutritionist.
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