Calcium supplements: think you don’t need one?

Calcium supplements: think you don’t need one?

Author -  Ingrid Pilz, Naturopath

Osteoporosis. It’s a big word that many people don’t think has much relevance to their lives now. After all, isn’t it a disease that only old women get?

Do you need to think about Osteoporosis?

There are actually a lot of misconceptions about osteoporosis – a bone condition that makes bones weak and brittle. It’s true that osteoporosis does affect more than half of New Zealand women over 60. But it also affects one third of men this age too – in fact, it’s estimated to cost New Zealand more than $1 million each year. And although it tends to appear in older people, its roots go right back our lifestyles and eating habits in our teens and 20s.

How your Calcium intake now affects your bone health in the future

Although your bones appear to be hard, unchanging body parts, they’re actually living tissue that’s constantly being built up and broken down. Up until your late 20s or early 30s, your bones grow gradually stronger and denser if they get enough Calcium and other minerals.

At this point, though, they reach what’s known as “peak bone density” – the maximum strength and density that they’ll ever have. After this, even with enough Calcium, your rate of bone breakdown starts to eclipse your rate of bone buildup. This means you can only either maintain or lose bone mass as you age. And that’s why it’s important to have a good Calcium intake while you’re still in your late teens and 20s.

Low Calcium levels – who’s most at risk

How much Calcium your bones get isn’t just about the Calcium in the food you eat. It’s also about how easily your body can absorb and use the Calcium that you take in. For example, your bones need weight-bearing exercise to really make use of the Calcium. And some kinds of foods can actually interfere with Calcium absorption, e.g:

  • The caffeine and tannins in tea, coffee, cola or chocolate drinks
  • Refined sugary or salty foods
  • Alcohol

So if you can’t do without your daily caffeine hit, drink the odd glass of wine, or don’t exercise as often as you’d like? It’s probably a very good idea to start thinking about your Calcium levels now.

How to make sure you get enough Calcium

If you want to keep your bones healthy now and into the future, you need to look at your daily Calcium intake. Good dietary sources of Calcium include:

  • Low fat dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Dark green leafy veges like broccoli, bok choy and spinach
  • Canned fish like sardines and salmon (if it contains the bones)
  • Tofu and almonds
  • Calcium-fortified foods (e.g. fortified orange juice, soy milk or cereals)

If you don’t eat a lot of these foods on a regular basis, you may need to consider supplementing with a quality, high-potency Calcium supplement.