Better Bones and Muscles
Calcium definitely helps support your active lifestyle. But if you thought you needed it just for your bones, think again. It helps your muscles (including your heart) contract; it activates enzymes that affect valuable glycogen stores in the muscles and liver; and researchers speculate that low calcium levels may cause muscle cramps. Most importantly, clacium plus exercise equals a one-two punch that will help protect you against osteoporosis and the increased risk of fractures accompanying it.
Although we’ve all heard how serious calcium deficiency is, most women still get less than the RDA of 800 mg; one in four takes in less than 300 mgs daily. To maintain blood calcium levels and to offset daily losses in urine and the intestinal tract, your body draws from the bones. “Most women who eat calcium-deficient diets have this parasitizing of bone calcium going on all the time,” says Sydney Lou Bonnick, M.D., author of The Osteoporosis Handbook. Unfortunately, you don’t experience the symptoms of bone loss until it’s too late, but you should take extra care to get the RDA if you’ve noticed your muscles cramping or twinging.
A panel of experts at the National Institutes of Health recently recommended that women aged 25 to 50 consume 1,000 mgs of calcium (two to four servings) daily. Children and young adults should get 1,200 to 1,500 mgs, postmenopausal women 1,000 to 1,500 mgs. Women who are pregnant or nursing, like women who exercise intensively and have little body fat, are at particular risk of losing calcium and should make an effort to up their intake. It’s difficult to get too much calcium in your diet, but 2,000 mgs should be the most you’ll need.
Dairy products are the most concentrated source of calcium, and the vitamin D in milk increases its absorption, as does lactose. If you aren’t big on milk products, add tofu to salads or try kale, collard greens and calcium-fortified juices. Diets high in salt increase calcium loss, and alcohol may lessen absorption. Although supplements aren’t the solution to a nutrient-poor diet, they can help
What’s in a Pill?
The best way to get the calcium you need is through a balanced diet. Supplementation is controversial, but if you’re not able to get the RDA in calcium-rich foods, here’s what to look for in a supplement:
Not all calcium supplements are created equal. Check the label to see how much elemental or pure calcium a product contains. Calcium carbonate (the type found in Tums) provides the most per tablet (500 to 600 mgs) and should be taken with meals. Calcium citrate is well absorbed on an empty stomach, but provides only 200 mg of calcium per tablet. These days most calcium supplements dissolve, but look for a guarantee from the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) to be sure. If you have a history of kidney stones, check with your physician before taking calcium supplements.