How Much Calcium Should Women Take?

A new clinical guide summarizes the evidence regarding the effects of calcium in reducing the risk of osteoporosis after the menopause. Bone health is especially important for the elderly.

Osteoporosis is common and affects 1 in 3 women. Calcium is vital for strong healthy bones and worldwide scientific societies have issued guidance about the daily requirements from childhood to old age. The European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) has issued a new clinical guide with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of calcium in lowering the risk of osteoporosis.

The recommended daily intake of calcium after menopause varies between 700 and 1,200 mg, depending on the endorsing society. It is uncertain whether excessive intake can cause harm. Some epidemiological studies have raised concern about possible cardiovascular risk, dementia or even, paradoxically, fracture.

Calcium may be obtained from food or supplements containing calcium salts. Most people should be able to get enough of it through healthy eating, but this is not always the case. Diets in Southern European countries have less dairy products than in Northern countries. Data from the NHANES database in the USA showed that less than one third of women aged 9 to 71 consumed enough of it in their diet. Supplements are poorly tolerated and therefore not usually taken long term. Another reason for concern are the rates of over prescription of supplements above the recommended upper level of 2,000 mg/day. For example, one study found that 29% of supplements were over prescribed.

Since our bodies don’t manufacture minerals, we have to get them from plants grown in mineral-rich soil or from the organ meats of animals that eat such plants. (Most of the mineral waters we swill contain only negligible amounts of minerals, so they don’t add much to our daily intake.) While there is some debate about whether our soil is as mineral-rich as it once was, there is no question that Americans don’t eat enough vegetables and grains to meet our basic mineral needs, says nutrition expert Elizabeth Somer, author of numerous books including Nutrition for Women: The Complete Guide. “If we were eating the eight to ten daily servings of broccoli, blueberries, and deep-colored nutritious foods we’re supposed to, we’d be fine,” she says. “But 99 out of 100 of us don’t meet the minimum standards.”

EMAS confirms that calcium is an essential part of the diet from childhood to old age, and that an approximate assessment of intake should be part of routine health checks. Women need to be more calcium-aware and mindful of calcium-rich foods. But more is not better, and women should be warned that intakes above the recommended levels may be useless or, although still debated, may cause harm.

Story Source:  Elsevier

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