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What is calcium?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body and is the primary building block of bones. 99% of the total calcium content is in the bones and teeth playing a structural role. The remaining 1% is in the body tissues and fluids where it is essential for performing some vital activities.

Why is calcium so important for women?

Today's women need to run household chores, look after kids as well as hold jobs and go outside, work in communities, do social works, build egos, develop personalities .... the list goes on and on. Research shows that women have unique nutritional needs that many women don't get from their diets. So to enhance their lives, their relationships, their enjoyments, they need to take in the right nutrients in the right combinations in a convenient way to their full advantage.
Apart from giving strength to the bones, calcium is needed for proper muscle functioning and rhythming, nerve impulse transmissions, blood clotting and absorption of vitamin B12. Since the body does not produce calcium by itself, it needs to be supplied from outside. The bones act like a bank account for calcium deposits and if the diet is low in calcium, the body starts to make withdrawals from the bones to maintain the level needed in the bloodstream. In course of time, the bones can begin to weaken and become brittle leading to susceptibility to breaking.
Adequate calcium in a healthy diet may reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life, especially when taken by teens and young women.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition involving loss of calcium from the bones reducing the bone mass leading to weak bones and increased risk of fractures. Depletion of bone mass occurs in all individuals above 35-40 years of age and is greatest in women following the menopause. This is due to reduced level of the hormone, oestrogen. So, postmenopausal women are particularly at risk from osteoporosis. Osteoporosis thus causes severe physical and psychological pain, deformities and permanent disabilities, limiting independance and quality of life in the later years. Osteoporosis affects one in four women and one in eight men over the age of fifty.

How can Osteoporosis be prevented?

It's never too late to start taking care of the bones. There are many ways to help reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, including a healthy lifestyle with plenty of dietary calcium and weight-bearing exercises. Post menopausal women, even those on hormone replacement therapy, can benefit from more calcium in their diets. Of course, there is no guarantee that an adequate calcium intake will absolutely prevent osteoporosis. Insuffient calcium in the diet, smoking, alcohols or even caffeine affects the bone health negatively. In women loss of bone mass is acclerated after menopause. Postmenopausal women should therefore pay even greater attention to their calcium intake.

A way of active living:

Science shows that nutrition is key to maintain an active life. Proper nutrients in a well-tailored diet along with physical activities help store calcium in the bones thus maintaining the bone and body health efficiently. Jogging, swimming, cycling, skating, rowing, dancing, even brisk walking or light aerobics may make life better with a healthy body, flexible muscles and peaceful mind.

Dietary sources of calcium:

Calcium is present in a wide variety of foods. All dairy products except butter, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds (almonds, sesame seeds), boiled broccoli, dried figs, cheddar cheese, soya cheese, tofu and dried fruits are all good sources of calcium for vegetarians. Most flour is fortified with calcium carbonate, so cereals can also be a good source of calcium.

Deficiency symptoms:

Retarded growth and deformed or brittle bones in children, dental caries and osteoporosis in adults are the common deficiency symptoms.

Precautions:

A high protein diet can accelerate calcium loss, as can too much sodium and caffeine, postmenopausal hormone changes, lack of exercises and certain steroids. Fiber interferes with the absorption of calcium, particularly bean, nut, wheat bran or seed fiber. On the other hand, too much of calcium blocks the absorption of iron and zinc. Excess calcium in the blood can cause nausia, vomitting and calcium deposition in the heart and kidneys. This usually results from excessive doses of vitamin D and can be fatal in infants. Meat is a poor source of calcium.

Tip for pregnant women:

Calcium absorption from the gut increases and no additional calcium is generally needed. Pregnant adolescents are an exception to this, having particularly high calcium needs. Breast feeding women need an extra 550 milligram of calcium. A lactating woman can lose up to 300 milligram of calcium per day in breast milk.