Why Women Need More Calcium

Why Women Need More Calcium

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  1. You’re a twenty-three year old woman and you go to your primary care physician and as you’re walking out the door at the end of the exam your doctor hands you a bottle of pills and says, "Here, take two of these every day." You have no medical history and just came for a check-up, and next thing you know she hands pills to take every day. You look down and see that they are calcium 600 mg and vitamin D 400 IU and it says "Take 2 pills each day." What’s the reason for this? The truth is that your doctor is not just pushing pills he or she got from a drug rep, they’re trying to look out for your future health.

    During the teenage years women are building, modifying, and strengthening their bones. The human body at this age is very efficient in absorbing calcium from the gastrointestinal tract because circulating estrogen, which is relatively high in the teenage and pre-menopausal years, faciltates absorption of calcium. Your body needs this calcium, because 99% of the body’s stores of calcium are held within bones. While you may have an adequate store of calcium currently, the teenage, 20s, and 30s are thought as the calcium "banking" years. The thought is that if the bones have enough storage of calcium in their pre-menopausal years, when estrogen levels decline after menopause, and the effective absorption of calcium decreases the calcium pills, which also contain vitamin D, that your doctor gave you when you were in your "prime" will help prevent age-related degeneration such as osteoporosis and osteopenia. These are both medical terms for insufficient mineralization, or bone "hardness."

    What Happens After Menopause?

    After menopause, circulating levels of estrogen decline, which produce those unwanted side effects such as mood swings and hot flashes. Another consequence is that the estrogen, because there is not as much of it, is not able to help calcium be maximally absorbed through the gastrointestional tract. Thus, while it was important to "bank" calcium in your earlier years, it is even more important to supplement with calcium peri and post menopause in order to be certain that your bones have enough calcium to stay strong and mineralized and repair if need be. Luckilly, estrogen is not the only thing that helps our body absorb calcium, vitamin D also plays a role in this. That is why many of the calcium supplements sold over the counter contain both calcium and vitamin D. The general recommendation is to take 1200 mg of calcium daily and 800 IU of vitamin D daily.


    How Else Can You Keep Your Bones Strong?

    Not everyone is in a position to take a pill every day. There are other ways to get adequate calcium. Foods high in calcium include, milk, cheese, figs, cheese and sauce pizza (your kids will love this!), tofu, sardines, yogurt, and kale. These foods contain between 200-600 mg in a serving. Remember, however, calcium absorption is aided by vitamin D. A 10-15 minute sun exposure on bare skin daily can give you a great serving of vitamin D. So take some of the foods listed above and have a picnic in the park! Other foods high in vitamin D are, fish, eggs, fortified cereal, and fish oil. Other ways to keep your bones strong are weight-bearing exercises and preventing falls and accidents.

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