Calcium: bone up for health
by Laura Nathan-Garner
Want to do your body good? Make sure you’re getting enough calcium.
This important nutrient plays a big part in building healthy bones. As you age, strong bones can help you avoid osteoporosis, a weakening of the bone tissue and loss of bone mass that can up your risk of bone fractures.
And, that’s not all. Strong bones also can keep you in fighting shape if you develop a disease like cancer. That’s because certain cancers and cancer treatments can weaken the bones.
Plus, calcium may protect the body from colorectal cancer, heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. But more research needs to be done.
Here’s what you should know so you and your family can reap calcium’s benefits.
Building strong bones should start in childhood
Got kids or grandkids? Make sure they start getting enough calcium early.
Bones grow the most between ages 9 and 17. And, 90% of adult bone mass is established by age 17. So, bones that don’t get the right amount of calcium during the “tween” and teen years can’t make up for it later.
Not sure how much calcium your kids need? Use the National Institutes of Health’s breakdown.
Make sure you and older relatives get enough calcium
Our bodies start to lose bone mass as we age, raising the risk of osteoporosis.
Age 19-50? Aim for 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day. Older than age 50? Shoot for 1,200 milligrams.
Make sure you don’t consume more than 600 milligrams at a time. Your body can’t absorb more than that.
Get your fill with a healthy, calcium-rich diet
The best way to get your fill of calcium is through the foods you eat.
Adults can get enough calcium by eating 2½ to 3 servings of the following foods each day:
- Low-fat and non-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese
- Dark, leafy greens like kale, collard greens and broccoli
- Soymilk or 100% fruit juice fortified with calcium
- Canned sardines or salmon products that include the bone
Can’t get your fill of calcium from food? Talk to your doctor about whether you need to take a calcium supplement. And, be sure to ask about possible benefits and drawbacks.
Avoid getting more than 1,500 milligrams of calcium a day
Too much calcium may do more harm than good. Play it safe by limiting yourself to no more than 1,500 milligrams of calcium each day.
Calcium alone isn't enough to protect your bones
Calcium isn’t all you need to build healthy bones. MD Anderson also recommends that you:
- Add vitamin D to your diet. The safest, healthiest way to get your daily fill of vitamin D is through foods like salmon, tuna and milk, and, if needed, supplements.
- Get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. Make sure you do weight-bearing exercises like walking, tennis and stair-climbing. And, be sure to include resistance exercises like weight lifting.
- Avoid tobacco. Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco weaken your bones — and raise your cancer risk. So, if you use tobacco, start a plan to quit.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine. They may reduce the amount of calcium that your body absorbs.
So, go ahead and start filling your plate with a healthy dose of calcium. Your bones will thank you for years to come.
Bone Health and Osteoporosis (MD Anderson)
Bone Health (MD Anderson)
Boning Up on Bone Health (MD Anderson)
Calcium and Bone Health (CDC)
Calcium and Cancer Prevention: Strengths and Limits of the Evidence (NCI)