Calcium and Skeletal Health

Calcium and Skeletal Health


Our bodies go through many stages during our life cycle, but it always needs calcium. Many people have this mistaken belief that adults do not need calcium and hence stop drinking milk and eating other calcium rich foods, but in reality whatever your age may be you never outgrow your need for calcium.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral element in the human body accounting for about 2 per cent of an adult’s body weight. About 99 per cent of the body’s calcium is present in the bones along with phosphorus, in the form of hydroxyapatite where it contributes to the mechanical strength of the bones. The remaining 1 per cent of calcium is used for the contraction of muscles and transmission of nerve impulses, for the blood clotting process and activation of certain enzymes.

Since the body cannot manufacture its own calcium, it has to be obtained from the diet. If an adequate amount of calcium is consumed from a very young age then a bone bank is built up.

The bones cells are in a state of constant breakdown and build up and this helps keep the bones stronger as one grows older. During adolescence due to the growth spurt, the bones grow quickly and increase in mass. Almost half an adult’s bone density is formed during adolescence hence it is very important for teenagers to consume calcium rich foods. Once the adult height is reached, the bones continue to grow denser and stronger. Bone mass reaches its peak by the age of 30 and if an adolescent’s diet is calcium deficient they may not be able to reach their optimum growth potential and will enter adulthood with less dense bones.

Menopausal and post menopausal women have increased needs for calcium as less oestrogen leads to decreased calcium absorption and increased loss of bone mass thus increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis.

On an average about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of dietary calcium is absorbed by healthy adults. Growing children, pregnant women and lactating women absorb about 50 per cent to 60 per cent of calcium.

The efficiency of calcium absorption decreases with age. Women after the age of 45 and men after the age of 60 absorb 20 per cent to 30 per cent of calcium. In the elderly, calcium absorption is about 10 per cent due to various factors.

Calcium is absorbed in the small intestine mainly in the duodenum, in the presence of vitamin D. Vitamin D is key in absorbing calcium from the food eaten. The absorption of calcium decreases as the level of vitamin D decreases. Similarly lactose, vitamin C and certain amino acids favour calcium absorption.

Excessive amounts of dietary fibre, fat, salt, protein, iron, phosphorus, phytates and oxalic acid interfere with the absorption of calcium, while excessive use of antacids containing aluminium can increase the loss of calcium in the urine.

Foods rich in calcium include nachni or ragi, bengal gram or chana, horse gram or kuleeth, moth bean or matki, kidney beans or rajma, soya bean, black gram or urad almonds, sesame or til seeds, niger seeds (karlya), amaranth or rajgira seeds, milk and milk products, dry prawns, small fish with the bones, mackerel, black pomfret, green leafy vegetables, coconut palm jaggery or madachem godd.

Here are some tips to increase your calcium intake:

Try to include a nachni-based products such as nachni satva or tizan, nachni bhakri or nachni flakes (a product similar to cornflakes) in your daily diet.

Eat a bowl of low fat curd with chopped fruit for a healthy dessert. Avoid commercial fruit yoghurts as they are often high in sugar.

Sprinkle roasted and coarsely pounded nuts like groundnuts and seeds like flaxseeds, melon seeds (magaz), sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, etc, over salads, porridges or to vegetable preparations.

Include chutneys prepared of til, niger seeds (karlya) or flaxseeds (sonbiya, jawas or alsi) instead of pickles.

Knead dough with milk instead of water.

Have sesame seeds (til) or rajgira chikki or ladoos for snacks instead of biscuits to assuage hunger pangs.

To conclude, the earlier in life you meet your body’s need for calcium the greater will be your bone mass and the more your body will be able to cope with normal losses caused by ageing. Let us remember calcium wealth is skeletal health


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