Calcium is a critical nutrient for many body functions,and getting enough calcium reduces the risk of osteoporosis. However,high calcium intake alone does not necessarily lower a persons risk for osteoporosis. In fact,excessive calcium may make your bones weaker.
Harvard studies reported that individuals who drank one glass of milk (or less) per week were at no greater risk of breaking a hip or forearm than were those who drank two or more glasses per week. Further,randomised trials showed that calcium supplements did not protect against fractures. Moreover,there was some suggestion that calcium supplements taken without vitamin D might even increase the risk of hip fractures.
Osteoporosis is a complex disease caused not only by low calcium intake,but also by inadequate exercise,chronic inflammation,multiple mineral and vitamin deficiencies,and nutritional imbalances.
Calcium sources vary widely in their bio-availability,and several factors that affect absorption of calcium include vitamin D,vitamin A,vitamin K,protein,sodium,dietary acidosis,and dysbiosis.
Dietary acidosis reduces calcium absorption. It is caused by excessive consumption of acid-forming foods including animal protein,dairy and meat. Additionally,consumption of highly acidic substances like coffee,carbonated drinks,alcohol,sugar,over-the-counter and prescribed drugs,and even the metabolic by-products of chronic stress can all put the acid-alkaline balance beyond the tipping point.
On the flip-side,the under-consumption of alkalinising fruits and vegetables can compromise bio-availability of calcium. For this reason,vegetarians who consume plenty of fruits and vegetables may need less calcium than meat eaters.
Other factors like dysbiosis,an over growth of unfriendly bacteria in the gut due to certain medications or faulty diets can compromise absorption of nutrients including calcium. Common medicines like antacids,steroids,thyroxine,and diuretics interfere with calcium metabolism.
Consumption of excessive calcium through diary products,supplements and imbalanced diets may be making our bones weaker. In addition,excess calcium can deposit into soft tissues,leading to osteoarthritis,muscle cramping,insomnia,constipation or kidney stones. Calcium and vitamin D supplementation must be taken under medical supervision.
For optimal utilisation of calcium,it is important to take adequate levels of nutrients including vitamin D,phosphorus,zinc,manganese,magnesium,and boron,together with exercise. Vitamin D can be obtained either through exposure to sunlight,or as a supplement. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits and maintain good gut health through probiotics for optimal utilisation of bone-building nutrients. Limit animal protein to levels within protein requirements.
There is no substitute to eating right and exercising. Calcium rich foods and supplements alone will not prevent osteoporosis. Health professionals must encourage a healthy diet and active lifestyles that promote optimal calcium levels. As Indians,we have to be careful,as we have one of the highest prevalence of osteoporosis,which occurs 10-20 years earlier compared to Westerners.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being,one should integrate physical,mental and spiritual health. According to her: To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.