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Getting enough calcium is important at any age, but it's especially important during childhood and adolescence. That's when your body uses calcium to build bone mass. (Read about "Skeletal System")
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), once we're in our 30's, we start to lose bone mass. So if your bones aren't strong to begin with, you could develop osteoporosis, a potentially debilitating condition in which weak, porous bones are more likely to break. (Read about "Osteoporosis" "Bone Fractures")
But in spite of the importance of calcium in the early years, many of us aren't getting enough. In fact, the International Food Information Council says more than half of all American children and teens are getting less calcium than they need.
For those over the age of one, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends, depending on your age, sex and other health issues, between 700 and 1300 milligrams per day of calcium. You should discuss with your healthcare provider what your needs are. For those over the age of one, IOM also says the upper intake level for calcium is between 2000 and 3000 milligrams per day. Once again, it depends on your age and other health factors how much calcium you should be getting. Upper intake levels represent the upper safe boundary and should not be misunderstood as amounts people need or should strive to consume, according to IOM.
It is interesting to note current calcium recommendations for nonpregnant women are the same for pregnant women because intestinal calcium absorption increases during pregnancy, according to NIH's Office of Dietary Supplements. (Read about "Healthy Pregnancy")
A serving of milk or yogurt contains around 300 mg calcium. Information on calcium content is also found on food labels. (Read about "Food Labels") Calcium is also found in broccoli, leafy green vegetables and tofu. Some ways to include more calcium-rich foods in your diet include:
Of course, while calcium is important for children and teens, it's also important for adults. If you've never developed a taste for dairy products, or if you're lactose intolerant (meaning that dairy foods cause stomach and intestinal problems), talk with your doctor about supplements. (Read about "Lactose Intolerance")
Keep in mind however, that while supplements and fortified foods can be useful in getting enough calcium, it's important not to overdo it. For example, according to the National Institutes of Health, getting 2,000 mg/day or more of calcium can produce adverse health effects. (Read about "Kidney Stones") Therefore, use of supplements should always be discussed with a doctor first.
Remember too, that calcium is simply one of the important building blocks for healthy bones. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) says vitamin D (Read about "Vitamins & Minerals") is needed to help your body absorb calcium correctly. You can get adequate amounts of vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. But people who are confined indoors may need to discuss their vitamin D intake with their doctor. This also applies if you always use sunscreen when outdoors. (Read about "Sunscreen") For those over the age of one, IOM recommends, depending on your age, sex and other health issues, between 600 and 800 international units (IUs) of vitamin D per day to maintain health. Once again, you should discuss with your healthcare provider what your needs are. For those over the age of one, IOM also says the upper intake level for vitamin D is between 2500 and 4000 IUs per day, depending on your age and other health factors.
ADA says magnesium is also important for maintaining healthy bones and a healthy heart. The recommended amount, according to ADA is 400 milligrams of magnesium a day. Food sources include whole grain breads and cereals, as well as nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
In addition to what you eat, weight-bearing exercises such as walking are also important for building bone strength. As always, of course, ask your doctor before starting a new exercise program. (Read about "Getting Started on Fitness")
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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