You have probably heard many different things about bones and how to keep them strong. Your parents likely told you to drink your milk, and your physician may have instructed you to take calcium, or vitamin D supplements. We all hear that bones need calcium and vit D to be strong...but why? Are supplements better? Is milk the only cure? How much do we need? (Please note: I am not in any position to give individual medical advice because I am not aware of your personal health and needs. Please contact your medical team for definitive advice that will be tailored to you! This blog is not a substitute for medical attention).
First, let me give you some background information on bones. Structurally, they are made of calcium and phosphorus, with some magnesium. Two hormones control calcium levels in the body: PTH from the parathyroid glands, and calcitonin from the thyroid gland. This is not necessary to know, but I will include it here so that if you are interested, you can look for more information. Now, you must understand that calcium is important for other processes in the body as well, such as muscle contraction, hormone release, and more. Thus, our bodies need to ensure that blood calcium, levels are not too high nor too low - they must be just right. When the calcium levels get too low, PTH is released. PTH acts on the bone to release calcium from bones, thus making more calcium available in the blood. This is important because we just learned that our bodies need calcium, levels to stay just right for normal processes. BUT PTH breaks down the bone to release this calcium into the blood. So, if you don't have enough calcium, PTH will break down the bone to ensure calcium levels are stable.
This is largely why we need to ensure that we are eating enough calcium, in our diets. If we don't, PTH causes the bone to break down, thus weakening our bones and depriving them from the calcium that makes them sturdy and strong. How much calcium do we need? People over the age of 18 generally need around 1000 mg a day, while women over 50 and males over 70 need 1200 mg a day. Children typically need 1300 mg a day. The picture has some sources of calcium and how much they contain.
When women reach menopause, changes in hormones occur - namely, estrogen and progesterone drop. This causes many changes, but for the sake of this post, we will focus on what it does to the bones. Estrogen and progesterone maintain bone health in females. So, when they drop at menopause. women are at greater risk for osteoporosis. By the way, osteoporosis is when the bones are no longer as strong as they should be, characterized by decreased bone mass density. This puts them at greater risk for fractures as well. This is why females really need to ensure they consume enough calcium!
Supplements are often needed because the modern day diet doesn't contain enough calcium. There are SO many different calcium supplements out there, so please speak to your physician and/or pharmacist before taking one. You should ensure that you need the supplement, as too much calcium is not desirable either. Also, calcium pills should generally be taken two to four hours within other medications because they can impair the absorption of other medications.
Equally important is vit D, which is needed in the intestines for calcium, to be absorbed. This is why you will hear that vit D and calcium, are needed together. We need about 600 IU of vit D a day, which is VERY hard to get from the diet alone. Vit D is not very plentiful in foods except for some fish and fortified dairy products or orange juice. Vit D supplements can also be taken, and they are usually very small pills (which is nice, b3cause calcium pills are usually big!). Again, talk to your medical team before taking any supplements.
I hope that clarified some myths or questions some of you had about bones and calcium! As usual, I am open to researching or providing any information about health or mental health, etc that you are curious about, so let me know. Being a nursing student has made me that much more interested in these topics, so please ensure that you are informed! In the end of the day, ensure you are getting enough calcium for your needs, as this is extremely important for bone health and will prevent future complications such as osteoporosis, falls, fractures, and more. Remember, a healthy life begins with a healthy mind and a healthy body!