The Role of Calcium in Osteoporosis


What Foods Are Good Sources of Calcium?

In general, it’s always a good idea to get your nutrients from whole foods. Some of the best calcium-rich foods include:

  • Plain low-fat yogurt, which nets you 415mg of calcium in an 8-oz. serving
  • Black-eyed peas (211mg in 1 cup)
  • Canned salmon (181mg in 3oz)
  • Tofu (163mg in 3oz)
  • American cheese (162mg in 1oz)
  • Cottage cheese (138mg in 1 cup)
  • Soy milk (93mg in 1 cup)

Other high calcium foods include dark, leafy greens (e.g. kale, spinach and collard greens), almond butter and broccoli.

Try and incorporate at least one calcium-rich food in every meal, and aim to get this mineral from a variety of sources to ensure you get a wide spectrum of complementary vitamins and minerals.

Calcium Supplements: Things to Consider

If you don’t get enough calcium through whole foods in your diet, calcium supplements can help to fill the nutritional gap.

Your doctor might strongly recommend calcium supplements in specific circumstances, such as if you’re an older woman, if you follow a restrictive diet, or if you have a health problem that affects your ability to absorb calcium (e.g. inflammatory bowel disease).

While it’s always best to get your nutrients from whole foods, supplements do have their place. One study found that taking a calcium supplement reduced bone loss in women by up to two percent.

If you’re considering taking a calcium supplement, keep the following pointers in mind.

1. Don’t Forget Your RDA

Keep your daily recommended allowance (RDA) in mind. Use a supplement to do exactly that: supplement, not replace, what you already get in your daily meals.

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More is not necessarily better and can even be harmful.

If you take too much calcium, you may experience bloating, gas, constipation and other digestive issues. Taking too much calcium may also raise your risks of kidney stones and calcium deposits in your blood (a health problem known as “hypercalcemia”).

2. Space It Out

Take small doses. You can only absorb a certain amount of this essential mineral at a time.

Aim for no more than 500mg at a time, spaced throughout the day. For example, if your daily recommended allowance is 1,000mg of calcium, and you currently get 500mg of calcium through your food, you might take a 250mg supplement in the morning and another one in the afternoon.

Remember to talk to your doctor before making changes to your diet or supplement plan, especially if you’re trying to self-treat or prevent an illness or disease. Everyone’s body is different, and factors like lifestyle and diet can play a big role.

3. Read the Ingredients Label on Your Supplements

Don’t get swayed by fancy labels and marketing. Look at the ingredients. Not all supplements are the same.

In general, you’ll find most calcium supplements use one or both of two major forms of calcium: calcium carbonate and calcium citrate.

Calcium carbonate tends to be the most budget-friendly since 40 percent of its weight is elemental calcium (the calcium you can absorb). To best absorb this form of calcium, you need to take it with food. However, people with sensitive stomachs sometimes say this type of calcium makes them feel ill.

Calcium citrate, on the other hand, is more expensive. While it contains less elemental calcium per weight compared to calcium carbonate, the calcium it does have is much easier for your body to absorb.

Calcium citrate also doesn’t need to be taken with food and is gentler on your digestive system.

Use Calcium with Other Preventative Treatments

Calcium in your food and in your supplements isn’t a magic bullet. Many people find it effective, but it should be just one important tool in your anti-osteoporosis toolkit.

To maximize calcium’s effectiveness in keeping your bones strong and preventing osteoporosis-related fractures, take calcium along with other bone-building strategies.

1. Eat Healthy Fats

The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that healthy omega-3 fatty acids are linked with better bone health. Some of the best sources of omega-3s come from fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines. If you follow a plant-based lifestyle, vegan-friendly omega-3s include chia seeds and flaxseeds and hemp oil.

2. Reduce Your Salt Intake

Most Americans eat far more salt than they need. Not only does excessive sodium in your food increase your risks of health problems like high blood pressure, but it can also cause your bones to lose calcium. Most people should get a maximum of 2,300 milligrams of salt daily.

3. Don’t Drink Too Much Caffeine

Your morning coffee habit may be affecting your bone health. Excessive caffeine can reduce your body’s ability to digest and absorb calcium.

The Mayo Clinic recommends no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which equals approximately four cups of brewed coffee.

You may wish to try alternative ways to energize yourself, such as aromatherapy or bright light therapy. Some people also find that caffeinated teas, such as black tea and green tea, are energizing but have a gentler, less jittery effect on the body.

4. Do Weight-Bearing Exercise

Pumping iron could pump up your bone strength. Lifting weights have been shown to help improve bone mineral density. Staying strong can also reduce your risks of falls, which helps to also prevent fall-related injuries and bone fractures.

Mix a strength-training regimen with regular cardio, such as going for a walk around the block or enjoying a morning swim at the community pool. One study found that staying physically active reduced hip fracture rates by 60 percent.

Osteoporosis and aging shouldn’t mean you have to inevitably slow down and become fragile. Enjoy the active life you love. By ensuring your diet is on point and your lifestyle supports your bone health, you maximize the benefits of calcium and keep your bones as strong as possible for as long as possible.

Resources

NCBI (An estimate of the worldwide prevalence and disability associated with osteoporotic fractures.)

Osteoporosis Canada (Calcium)

NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center (What Is Bone?)

Osteoporosis Canada (What Is Osteoporosis?)

Oregon State University (Calcium)

The BMJ (Calcium intake and bone mineral density: systematic review and meta-analysis)

NCBI (The use of calcium and vitamin D in the management of osteoporosis)

Harvard (Calcium: What’s the Best for Your Bones and Health?)

HealthLine (7 Myths of Osteoporosis)

Oregon State University (Vitamin D)

Harvard (Calcium Sources in Food)

NCBI (Calcium revisited: part II calcium supplements and their effects)

Harvard (Choosing a Calcium Supplement)

Mayo Clinic (Caffeine: How Much Is Too Much?)

International Osteoporosis Foundation (Exercise Recommendations)

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