Calcium sits pretty on any plate. It shines through slivers of cheese, glistens through leafy green vegetables, and fortifies the milk in your morning cup of coffee. Of course, it isn’t really visible, but if it were, that’s probably what it would look like, we reckon. Calcium itself doesn’t carry a taste, but it doesn’t hurt that the foods that contain it are favoured by the majority of the population. Cheese, milk and fruit always have our vote.
Calcium plays a vital role in a variety of body functions, such as blood clotting, muscle contraction and impulse transmission. About 99% of the calcium in your body is stored in your skeletal system, but when your plasma calcium concentration becomes low, your body draws calcium from your bones. When your calcium levels fall, the parathyroid hormone is released, which catalyses the creation of calcitriol. Calcitriol, a form of vitamin D, causes bone resorption, where the bones release their calcium to the rest of the body. When calcium levels in the serum regain normalcy, this cycle is cut short and bone density is restored.
Menopause sometimes creates a calcium deficit within the body because of a drop in oestrogen. When oestrogen reduces, the body’s ability to retain calcium from food decreases, and the result is calcium deficiency. If you’re 40 or over, you may want to start taking calcium supplements to maintain bone mass, arrest calcium depletion and ward off osteoporosis. The recommended intake of calcium for women above forty is 1,000 milligrams per day.
Typically, your bone mass peaks when you’re between 25 and 35, and starts falling after that. It’s after 35 that your body needs help with maintaining calcium levels. Cue, calcium supplements.
In addition to calcium, premenopausal and postmenopausal women have an increased need for vitamin D, because it helps with calcium absorption into the bloodstream. Vitamin D is normally produced sufficiently by the skin itself, but with age, the ability of the skin to produce the sunshine vitamin diminishes. Like calcium, vitamin D can be taken through supplements, and a combination of the two can shield you from age-related surges in the parathyroid hormone and bone resorption.
Sometimes, despite having a well-balanced diet, you may still be prone to calcium deficiency. This could be for a number of reasons. If you consume high levels of salt and protein, for example, your kidneys may flush out calcium as a reflex. Here, changing your diet to include less protein and salt, is advisable. People who are lactose intolerant are also more susceptible to a deficiency of calcium. This is because the lactase enzyme doesn’t break down the lactose found in dairy products well enough. You can counter the effects of lactose intolerance with supplements, to ensure that your calcium levels are optimal.
If you need help to enhance your diet with calcium, meet a nutritionist who can guide you along on what to add to your plate and what to set aside. A little more calcium on your plate can be delicious and healthy, and your bones and taste buds will thank you for it.