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Calcium and Aging: How to Ensure You Are Getting Enough

One symptom of aging is a gradual and inevitable loss of calcium in your bones. The older you get, the more likely you are to suffer from weak muscles, stiff joints, and even osteoporosis. But what role does calcium play in healthy aging? Why does it happen? This post addresses these concerns so you can be sure to get enough calcium as you age!

Importance of Calcium

bone health x-rayCalcium is an essential mineral to live a healthy life. Calcium assists in maintaining the health of our bones and teeth by helping develop and maintain strong bone tissue. Around 99 percent of the calcium of our bodies is found in teeth and bones. It also helps our muscles to contract, our blood to clot, and our heart to beat. It may also have some anti-aging effects on the body.

Our bodies are incapable of producing calcium on their own. Therefore, it is critical for us to consume adequate calcium through our food. When the body does not obtain enough calcium for critical roles, it can extract it from the bones. While this is fine on occasions, bones become brittle and more likely to fracture if it occurs regularly.

Calcium requirements are determined by age. Because approximately half of all bone formation occurs during the teen years, calcium requirements are highest for teens. However, as you get older, your bones start to lose calcium. During the aging process, bones break down more than they build up. As a result, bones grow thinner and weaker over time. However, by increasing vitamin D and calcium intake, bone loss can be managed, and you can lower the risk of osteoporosis.

How to Get Enough Calcium

According to the Mayo Clinic, men ages 51-70 should consume 1,000 mg of calcium daily. Men 71+ and women ages 51 and older should consume 1,200 mg per day. Unfortunately, as Robert Wermers of the Mayo Clinic says, Americans, on average, are not receiving enough calcium from their diet. In the United States, women over the age of 50 consume 589-649 mg of calcium per day, while males consume 728-777 mg. According to Wermers, "After 50 years of age, it becomes more difficult to maintain calcium balance, and bone loss accelerates. Fractures become more likely as you become older".

The good news is that calcium can be found in a variety of food sources and supplements. However, calcium supplements should only be used if you aren't getting enough calcium from your diet, and as recommended by your medical professional.

Which Foods Are Calcium-Rich?

When people hear the word "calcium," they frequently think of calcium-rich dairy products such as yogurt, milk, and cheese. While these are great options, there are several other good choices as well to increase your calcium intake! 

  • man sitting at table with calcium-rich foodsLow-fat dairy products contain nearly as much calcium as full-fat dairy products.
  • Calcium-rich non-dairy alternatives are also available for those who are lactose intolerant or wish to forgo dairy products.
  • Almonds, broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, collard greens, and Chinese cabbage are calcium-rich too.
  • One can of salmon (with bones) contains about 20% of the daily recommended amount in a single 3-oz serving size.
  • Kelp, quinoa, and okra are calcium-rich sides you can add to your dishes 

Factors That Can Influence Calcium Absorption

The amount of calcium in foods varies significantly depending on their fat level. More fat tends to mean less calcium. Calcium absorption is proportional to the overall amount of calcium taken at one time. The more calcium consumed, the smaller percentage of the calcium that is absorbed. As a result, calcium intake should be limited to 500 mg at a time. 

Vitamin D, on the other hand, boosts calcium absorption. Vitamin D supplements with meals can help your body absorb calcium more effectively. Studies have demonstrated that athletes over the age of 60 who take supplements with vitamin D and calcium can increase their strength, athletic performance, and decrease their risk of falling. However, while vitamin D aids calcium absorption, numerous other factors make calcium metabolism more difficult. For example, oxalic acid, found in dark green leafy vegetables, binds to calcium and prevents it from being absorbed by the body. Greens contain varying amounts of oxalic acid. So, if you want to eat more calcium-rich foods or take a calcium supplement, don't eat spinach, parsley, or rhubarb. Other factors that may affect calcium absorption include:

  • Age — As your body's capacity for calcium absorption decreases with age, older persons must ingest extra calcium each day.
  • Caffeine — The stimulant found in tea and coffee can enhance calcium excretion while decreasing absorption. One cup of standard brewed coffee, for example, depletes calcium by 2-3 mg.
  • Alcohol — When consumed in large quantities, alcohol may impair calcium absorption and block some liver enzymes necessary for the active conversion of vitamin D. However, the exact amount of alcohol needed to affect calcium status is uncertain.

A healthy diet is essential to living a long and healthy life. In that way, it is critical to consume enough calcium to maintain good health. If you're concerned that you're not receiving enough calcium in your diet, speak with your doctor about strategies to increase your intake and maintain your bone health for many years to come.

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