Why Is Calcium Important For Women (More Than Men)?
“Elder women need more calcium because it can lead to osteoporosis”. But the truth is women of all ages need more calcium in their diet, much more than men. Keep reading to find more about this important micronutrient for women.
What is the basic role of Calcium in our body?
Calcium is a key nutrient mainly needed to maintain strong bones and teeth. Apart from this it is required for: the brain to function properly, to stop bleeding when you get wounded or hurt, for muscles to be strong and contract, for your heart to beat at the right pace/ heart rhythm.
Extra focus on “for muscles to be strong and contract”. Hint: Period cramps :)
Calcium is required to make the skeleton/bones strong and perform other functions. Calcium is required to make bone tissue which is the building blocks of the skeleton. Think of the skeleton as a bank account or lets call it the bone account. Bone tissue is the money.
From the infancy to age 30 you can put as much bone tissue into your skeleton. The amount of bone tissue that can be made is fixed with time. The body uses calcium to build bone tissue only till age 30. The bone account becomes full at age 30- the is called peak bone mass.
Peak bone mass is the maximum amount of bone tissue that can be attained in the skeleton of a human body. Bone mass can be increased until the late 20s and reaches its peak at the age of 30.
The peak bone mass of a person depends on their genetics, environment, diet and other factors. Varies from one person to another. One should make sure they meet the RDAs at their specific ages to reach their true potential peak bone mass.
In simple words - Your bone account can accept calcium to make bone tissue only till age 30. After this it doesn’t increase or change much no matter how much calcium you eat.
Hence even as the body continues to require Calcium after 30, we need to build enough Calcium in the body till age 30 for it to use from its bone reserves.
We all know that money is withdrawn from a bank account to meet your needs/ wants in life. This reduces your account balance?
CALCIUM IS NEEDED AT EVERY STAGE IN A WOMAN’S LIFE
Calcium is popular for its importance in women's bone health. Women make the common mistake of worrying about calcium and bone health only when they are approaching menopause.
But a woman should start thinking about her calcium intake and bone health from birth through childhood, teenage and early adolescence years as well.
Infant: Calcium RDA- 500 mg/day
A girl needs calcium for bone growth and development. This is the main age that sets stage for it.
Pre-teen, Adolescence and early adulthood: Calcium RDA- 800 mg/day
This is the period when the foundation for strong bones reserves is laid.
Just like how one is encouraged to save money reserves to have a financially secure/ healthy life during your old age. This is the time when a girl should start building her calcium reserve for healthy bones and teeth later in life.
This is the stage when the Calcium in your diet is put into bones and teeth.
This bone account is kind of like a fixed deposit account at this age. There is more calcium being put in for savings than removed from the bones.
Maximising the bone reserves in a girl at this age can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis in her later years.
This stage is crucial and parents and teens should ensure that the dietary intake of calcium in the form of milk from calcium and other foods is good.
During childhood and adolescence, much more bone tissue is put into the bone than withdrawn, so the skeleton/ bone account grows in both size and density.
NOTE: Up to 90 percent of peak bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls which makes youth the best time to “invest” in one’s bone health.
What happens if I don't consume enough Calcium growing up?: The worst after effects of it will be seen in adulthood and not immediately.
Adulthood: Calcium RDI- 600mg/day
The calcium that is taken in through the diet gets put into building the bone upto the age of 30 for women. Women hit their maximum bone mass at the age 30. This means that if you do not provide the body with enough calcium through the diet, the bone mass begins to decrease.
Onset of Menstruation: During periods the Uterus is squeezing the blood and tissue out of the body. Women experience cramps due this. The muscles of the uterus need calcium for muscle tone and to keep the pain down. Good muscle tone = strong muscles = less menstrual pain/ cramping. Where does it come from: Calcium! Calcium deficiency will lead to period cramps
Her calcium requirement doubles at this stage in her life. Pregnancy and breastfeeding - 1200mg/day
This is the time when a woman needs to up her calcium intake. If her calcium intake is insufficient, the calcium from her bones is drawn out to build the baby’s bones.
During lactation - The baby is dependent solely on mother’s milk for nutrition and health. Again the mother’s bone reserves are coming down while breastfeeding.
Perimenopause and Postmenopause:
Women tend to experience minimal change in total bone mass between age 30 and menopause. But in the first few years after menopause, most women go through rapid bone loss, a “withdrawal” from the skeleton, which then slows but continues throughout the postmenopausal years.
Estrogen is used to make bone tissue in women. The bone can start becoming thin after menopause because low estrogen levels = less bone tissue.
This loss of bone mass can lead to osteoporosis.
If one reaches their peak bone mass potential by 30 their risk for losing more bone tissue and getting osteoporosis decreases.
It makes sense to pay more attention to those factors that affect peak bone mass early on in life.
- Calcium is very important for women as she navigates the various stages of her life - menstruation, pregnancy, menopause
- Build the Calcium reserves early on, till age 18 and 30
From the above information it is evident that the calcium needs for a woman change with time and condition at different stages in her life. But for males the body’s need for calcium is almost constant throughout life, they are at a lower risk of fluctuating calcium levels.
How can a woman take care of her calcium needs at different stages?
Now the truth is that the Required daily allowance for Calcium is same for Both Adult men and women (600 mg / day) doing sedentary, moderate, heavy work, but it is very evident that women need to be more conscious of meeting the Calcium requirements to meet the demands of every life stage.
Drink milk - This is the common recommendation. But, most women, don't know why?
- Lactose intolerance - Some women are allergic to lactose a natural sugar present in milk. Their bodies cannot use the lactose.
- Many teenagers don’t like the smell or taste of milk
- Veganism - It is a trend today. Many people give up animal or dairy products.
- Good quality milk is hard to come by - Adulteration and dilution of milk
What are the other sources of Calcium and how much do I need on a daily basis?
100gm of milk contains only 125 gm of Calcium.
Millets - 100gm of Ragi contains 344gm of Calcium. Almost 2 times more Calcium than milk. Ragi flour can be made into a porridge with water or into a dosa.
Chickpeas - Half a cup of chickpeas contains 315 grams of Calcium. Almost 2 times more calcium.
Leafy greens like Spinach - Spinach contains 394 mg of Calcium.
Almonds - ¾ cup contains 320 mg of calcium
Chia seeds - Contains 641 mg of Calcium!!
Should I take calcium supplements?
Consuming 600mg of calcium daily means ~ 3.2 cups of milk, 3 cups of curd …..
We feel 3.2 cups of milk or 3 cups is enough and that is so not true.
If 100gm of milk contains 125 gm of calcium, not all 125gm is taken up by the body, only a fraction of it is used up by the body. It is the same with vitamins and minerals in all foods.
One can’t absorb all the calcium in a food, so go for easily absorbable natural calcium. Supplementation is recommended to fill the gap between your diet and what your body needs. Better to supplement then be deficient in calcium.
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