It is natural to think that this element prevents Osteoporosis and Osteopenia since it is the main element making up our bones. It IS important for strong bones and teeth.
- What is the role of calcium in my bone building?
The answer to your questions is rather long and complex. Here is a brief summary:
It is the main element in the bones of your skeleton and in your teeth. It is also the element that your body uses to bring itself back to its normal (slightly alkaline state) when there you body has become too acid as a result of eating or drinking too much of the acid producing foods.
If your body becomes too acid, it is in a state of acidosis, it needs to neutralize some of its acid. They body does this by taking calcium from its storehouse (bones and teeth) and circulating it. This balances out the acidic state and your body is restored to its natural, more alkaline, state.
The mechanism that keeps your body chemistry in balance works automatically. If your body were to remain too acidic, you would get sick. (There are some researchers, for example, who claim that all cancer patients have an overly acidic ph level.) But if your body chemistry were not acidic enough, you would die.
One of the great marvels of our human bodies is that they offer automatic regulation of their ph balance.
- So how does this affect Osteopenia or Osteoporosis?
If you eat a highly acidic diet, your body will need to remove calcium from your bones and teeth where it is stored so as to keep your body chemistry in a healthy balance.
There are several recent writers who claim that the rise in the number of people with Osteopenia and Osteoporosis are a direct result of 20th century changes in diet to a more acidic diet..
There was a time when people ate a more alkaline diet (vegetables, especially green leafy ones,fruits and dairy). But many people have switched to a more acidic diet (meat, fish, soft drinks, grains, legumes, nuts).
These researchers hold that because we are eating such an acidic diet, our bodies often need to leach calcium from its storehouses in our bones and teeth to buffer the acidic state and return to our bodies to its normal slightly alkaline state. Such researchers often point to evidence that populations who still eat a more alkaline diet, do not have the number of cases of Osteopenia and Osteoporosis as we do.
If we ate in a more healthful way, they claim, we would not be suffering from the lack of Calcium in our bones that leads toa diagnosis of Osteoporosis, Ostoepenia.
- How can I tell if my body is 'acid' or 'alkaline'?
It is not difficult. Most health food stores or pharmacies sell stock PH paper. You'll want to buy a "narrow range pH paper measuring pH 4.5 to 7.5 or pH 4.5 to 8.5."
You can use one of these ph strips to measure your alkaline/acid balance. Here's what to do:
- Swalow your saliva and then gather a bit more of it and swallow that too.
- Now insert a ph strip in your mouth so your saliva touches it.
- Remove the strip and watch it turn color. A color of blue indicates a healthy alkaline ph of 7.4, If the strip doesnot turn blue, use the color chart that comes with the ph strips to see what your ph is.
Remember, a ph lower than 7.0 is acid and your body will need to counteract that acid state. If your daily food choices are making your body acidic, and you have Osteopenia or Osteoporosis, you might consider making some changes. Add 'alkaline foods' and cut back on the 'acidic foods'. (see the list of foods given above)
If you have Osteopenia or Osteoporosis, these pH strips to measure acid/alkaline balance belong in your medicine chest, right beside the thermometer to measure body temperature.
- Can Osteoporosis and Osteopenia be treated effectively by diet?
I have no research evidence that diet alone can reverse bone loss once it has begun. There is research about bone density exercises and some supplements increasing bone mass. But if your daily diet is causing your body to leach calcium from your bones, your eating patterns are working against your bone building program. Anyone with Osteopenia or Osteoporosis who wants to reverse bone loss should think about diet. If you want to retain and rebuild bone you can not be eating in a way that causes your body to leach calcium from your bones to keep your body chemistry in balance.
If your body regularly needs to pull calcium for its bone storehouse in order to counteract your acidic state, how can you expect to rebuild bone?
If you have Osteopenia or Osteoporosis, it is wise to cut back on acid forming foods (meat, fish, grains, legumes, nuts, soda pop, caffeine ) and increase alkaline foods (vegetables, fruit, dairy). It is also wise to get dietary calcium from your food.
Note: I am not advocating that you become vegetarian. We know that fish, in particular, has many beneficial health benefits. It is a question of balance. Be sure that vegetables, fruit and dairy (if you are not lactose intollerant) are a significant part of your diet.
And you might consider buying some ph strips so you can check the results of your eating.
- How much calcium should I have each day?
There is no complete agreement on the answer to your question. Some claim that children and adolescents should have 1,300 millegrams of calcium each day; adults should have 1,000 millegrams and adults over age 50 should have 1,200 millegrams.
Others think that adults do not need that much...others that they need much more. Here is an area where you need the advice of your health care provider.
- What are the advantage of getting calcium from food?
Many believe that the element is more absorbable when taken in form. Remember that one of the big problems is getting the body to absorb it. Often supplements simply go through our intestinal tracks and wind up in the toilet. So it is important to pay attention to getting calcium from our diet.
- What foods are good sources?
You can get 400 milligrams of calcium in: 3 and 1/2 oz of Sardines WITH BONES; 1 cup of Yogurt, plain low-fat; Tofu processed with calcium salts (Do read the label since tofu varies widely).
You can get 300 milligrams from 1 cup of Milk; 1.5- 2 oz of hard cheese; 1/2 cup of part-skim ricotta cheese; 1/2 cup Salmon, canned WITH BONES; 6 ounces Collard greens ; 1 CUP Soy milk; (Check labels since brands vary); 1 cup Calcium fortified orange juice.
You can get 100 milligrams from 3/4 cup of Cottage cheese;I cup cooked broccoli, 1 cup navy or pinto beans; 1 small Taco; 1 English muffin; 1/3 cup Almonds; 4 dried figs. (One of my favorites are the dried figs which come into the stores in late Fall. I often buy 10 packages! And they are my between meal snacks or I add them to fruit salad)
Now, one of the big things about getting your calcium during your meals is to be sure that you do not eat foods that will block its absorption at the same meal. If you do, you may be eating calcium rich foods but it may never get into your system.
- What foods interfere with absorption?
Oxalates (such as spinach, sweet potatoes and beans) and
Phytates (such as whole wheat bran, beans, nuts and soy isolates) interfere with the absorption of calcium. So, for example, eating a piece of hard cheese alone or in a salad may be fine but eating a cheese sandwich or cheese on beans could be problematic.
Also, it is important to remember that protein and sodium boost the amount of calcium excreted in urine, while vitamin D reduces the amount excreted in urine.
Caffeine reduces the absorption and cigarette smoking may decrease the absorption too. So a cigarette after your meal may reduce the usefulness of a calcium rich meal.
- What about supplements? Which are the best?
The first thing you want to check about any supplement you are taking is how likely it will be absorbed by your body. There is an easy way to check this.
Get a glass of water and put one of your calcium supplements in it. Add vinegar and stir. If the supplement is not dissolved in 30 minutes, it is probably not being absorbedby your body.
Also, this web site gives a description of the one form, AAACa, that has been shown to be highly absorbable, even bythe very old. You can read more about this form AND find a link to Vitacost who sells it at a discount at Calcium .
Before I leave the subject of elemental calcium, I want to add that Calcium also helps to lower blood pressure and it controls our heartbeat. It helps regulate muscle contractions; plays an important role in blood clotting; prevents bleeding frombreaks in blood vessels' maintains cell membranes and helps in the absorption of vitamin B12! Calcium IS Important to your health.
Ruth S. Jacobowitz. 150 Most asked Questionsabout Osteoporosis. Hearst, 1993.