How much calcium is needed?

It is important that we all get enough calcium in our diet. Calcium is one of the most important minerals used by the human body. Most people are aware that we need calcium to maintain healthy bones and teeth.

Of course, with growing children, calcium is needed to help them develop and grow healthy teeth and bones. As adults, we need to take in adequate amounts of dietary calcium to prevent osteoporosis. This condition known as osteoporosis is medically defined as the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time, due to a lack of adequate amounts of dietary calcium. It is well known that this decreased bone density may lead to bone fractures and injuries from only minor trauma to these weakened bones.

With osteoporosis, bones are more fragile and more prone to fractures, due to their decreased bone density. It most often affects the bones of the hip, spine, and wrist. It is very important for all of us to be aware of osteoporosis because this bone density loss will usually occur without any symptoms at all. Unfortunately, many people are not aware they have this condition until their bones become so weak that even minor trauma such as a sudden strain, twist, or fall results in a fracture.

Currently, it is estimated by the National Institutes of Health that in the United States, more than 40 million people either already have osteoporosis or are at high risk to develop osteoporosis due to decreasing bone mass. This disease can occur in both men and women and at any age, but it is most common in older women.

Further, also according to the NIH, calcium not only helps the human body build strong bones and teeth, but this mineral also works in our body to assist with other essential human body functions. Calcium helps with the proper clotting of blood, is necessary to send and receive nerve signals, helps to squeeze and relax muscles, assists with the release of our hormones, and also helps us to maintain a normal heartbeat. In other words, calcium is a very essential mineral to maintain a healthy human body.

Here are some recommendations from the NIH. The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily calcium intake of 1,000 milligrams for men and women up to age 50, increasing to 1,200 mg for women over age 50 and men over age 70. Further, you will absorb calcium better if you split the dose and take it several times a day in smaller amounts of 500 mg or less each time.

Vitamin D is also very important as it plays a key role in helping your body absorb calcium. You should think of the association between calcium and vitamin D as being similar to that of a locked door and a key. Vitamin D is the key that unlocks the door that allows the calcium to enter our bloodstream.

Specifically, the recommended daily intake for vitamin D is 600 IU (international units) up to age 70. Men and women over age 70 should increase their vitamin D intake to 800 IU daily. Because of this key association of calcium needing vitamin D to be properly absorbed, many calcium supplements are fortified with vitamin D.

It is important to be aware of the role calcium and vitamin D play in the prevention of osteoporosis. Your health care provider and registered dietitians can provide you valuable information regarding the diagnosis, prevention and dietary treatment of this all too common condition.

Editor’s note: Dr. Jim Surrell, author of “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet,” has his practice at the Digestive Health Clinic at Marquette General Health System. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged.