Calcium is an important part of health

Sasha James

Calcium deficiency is a major problem in the United States. The Diet Channel reports an estimated 44 to 87 percent of Americans do not get enough of this mineral. The body absorbs dietary calcium quite efficiently during childhood to early adulthood when bone is forming. However, calcium absorption becomes less efficient with age and drops off significantly after age 50.

Proper calcium intake and optimal bone density is especially important for women during their childbearing years. As a fetus develops it can impact on the bone structure of the mother. If calcium intake is too low and the bone matrix of the mother is weak, the fetus will take what it needs leaving the mother at risk for osteoporosis later in life. Calcium is also needed to produce breast milk.

Much of the calcium in our body, 99 percent, is stored in bone, which is constantly being broken down and rebuilt. The other one percent circulates in the blood to ensure proper blood clotting, muscle and nerve function.

Calcium is critical for children during their growing years to build strong bones. A bit less is required during the middle years to keep bones strong, and much more calcium is needed later in life to prevent bone loss.

Recommended dietary intake for calcium is 1,300 mg a day for ages 9 to 19 and 1,000 mg a day from ages 19 through 50. Calcium requirements increase after age 50 to 1,500 mg per day.

Milk and dairy products are one of the best sources of dietary calcium. One 8 ounce glass of milk provides 30 percent of your calcium needs.

However, some people have trouble digesting milk. Those following a vegan diet may also need to pay attention to calcium-containing foods to assure that they get enough.

Calcium-fortified soy milk and juice, calcium-set tofu, soybeans and soy nuts, bok choy, broccoli, kale, mustard greens, and okra are all excellent sources of calcium. If diet alone cannot meet calcium needs, supplementation is recommended.

Weight-bearing exercises force muscles to work against gravity and stimulate cells to grow new bone. It enhances bone growth and increases bone density. Include walking, jogging, running, jumping jacks, weight lifting and other resistance training in your workout routine.

Adequate levels of vitamin D are necessary to absorb calcium. Research shows that vitamin D and calcium are needed in adequate amounts to support calcium absorption and bone health. The body synthesizes vitamin D from the sun and other fortified foods.

The American Dietetic Association has provided research that a lack of vitamin D in the body leads to a higher risk of osteoporosis and softening of the bones.

Calcium plays many roles within the body. It helps grow strong bones which provide skeletal structure and contributes to proper organ function and overall good health. Adequate calcium consumption paired with vitamin D and weight bearing physical activity will build strong bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life. Your bones deserve your attention, and when cared for properly, they will bring you the long-term well-being you deserve.