When you think about calcium, the first thing that pops to mind is probably “milk” (possibly even the “Got Milk” campaign with celebrity milk mustaches) – after that, one usually connects calcium to strong bones.
Of course milk is a source of calcium and it does indeed help build strong bones and teeth – but there are so many other sources and it does so much more!
What does calcium do?
Builds strong teeth and bones – Calcium is the building block for our bones and teeth, in fact around 99% of calcium in our bodies is in our teeth and bones – that’s a whole lot! It may be a bit weird to think about bones like this, but they are a tissue like any other, being built up and broken down throughout our lives. Calcium also helps blood to clot, muscles to contract and also release hormones.
Why is calcium important?
Calcium is not only essential to healthy bones but also for other important body functions. We cannot produce calcium, so we must get in our diets or through supplementation. When we are not getting enough calcium in our diets (or not absorbing enough), our bodies will take the calcium it needs from our main supply source – our bones! This can cause our bones to become brittle and break easily – which are also signs of osteoporosis.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is when our bones become weak and brittle and more bone is being destroyed than being built. We naturally lose bone density as we age, so one of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis is by building the healthiest bones while we are still in a heavy building stage, up to age 30. There are many external factors that can contribute to developing osteoporosis, but in particular, post menopausal women are at higher risk since the production of estrogen drops so quickly during menopause.
In addition to ensuring we get enough calcium in our diet, Vitamin D can help with calcium absorption and are often paired together in supplement, as well as Vitamin K. A lifestyle factor that can help increase bone density is exercise! Weight bearing exercises actually help your bones grow and become stronger. When they sense stress, bone cells will work towards increasing your bone density and strength. Weight bearing exercises include walking, running, hiking and various racquet sports to name a few.
Supplements – Calcium supplements are not without potential side effects, some studies have linked excessive calcium to increased risks of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and prostate cancer. If you are considering supplementing calcium, always discuss this decision with your preferred health care professional.
Fortunately, many foods contain calcium as well:
- Greens: broccoli, collard, kale
- Seeds: chia, poppy, sesame
- Nuts: almonds
- Sardines, salmon, cheese, yogurt, milk