Understandably, this is the consequence of effective marketing on behalf of the dairy industry that produces inventive media campaigns celebrating milk as the only means to grow, be strong, and prevent bone loss. In reality, strength does not only lie in a glass of milk.
Calcium is our bone strength mineral. What’s more, it helps maintain healthy teeth, functions in the clotting of blood, maintains the regular rhythm of the heart muscle, and keeps our nerves firing. Our blood is constantly in a state of flux regulating its calcium balance. When dietary intake of calcium is limited our body borrows calcium from our bones which together with our teeth store roughly 99% of our total internal supply. Over time with the absence of dietary calcium our bones can lend more of the mineral to keep the other calcium dependent processes functioning, but at a cost to our skeleton. This cumulative skeletal debt burden equals osteoporosis and increases the risk of falls. Bones continuously build their structure until we are 30 years of age. After that point, we start naturally losing bone. Many factors are implicated in this process including:
1. Hormones like estrogen and testosterone, which when dramatically reduced around the time of menopause in women and more slowly during andropause in men,lose their protective effect on bone health.
2. Vitamin D, which plays an essential role in the absorption and maintenance of calcium. However, for all Canadians vitamin D status becomes a challenge during Winter months because it is less readily produced in the skin without adequate Summer quality sunlight exposure. This is moreso a problem for people with darker complexions whose skin naturally blocks sunrays. Supplementation of vitamin D is therefore prudent during the months between October and April. Current research is indicating that fall occurance and subsequent fractures are significantly reduced by healthy vitamin D levels in the body.
3. Vitamin K, which is also very important for bone health and is present in green leafy vegetables.
4. Weight-bearing exercise, which is crucial because stress on the skeleton forces it to become denser and stronger. A variety of these exercises, like walking, running, racquet sports, and weight training, is necessary to ensure overall structural integrity of the body. Swimming is an example of non-weight bearing activity that does not provide much skeletal support.
5. Consumption of acidic foods, such as carbonated soda drinks and excessive protein. Both protein and phosphorus create an environment in the body that favours calcium resorption from bone. Keep protein levels around 70 Grams per day and limit intake of soda beverages which contain phosphorus.
6. Consumption of tannins found in tea, phytates found in raw nuts and seeds, and oxalates found in spinach, which all decrease Calcium absorption. Although spinach is popularly considered a great source of calcium, that positive effect is offset by the amount of oxalates, which bind the calcium rendering it useless to the body.
Other non-dairy sources of Calcium include kale, soybean, bok choy, collards, orange juice, beans, legumes, and other fortified drinks. Many people can get frustrated and bogged down by daily equivalents of these foods. Is it one cup of kale or two? If I don’t have orange juice today I should eat three cups of kale. I suggest relaxing the mathematics of these daily requirement equations and just enjoy a variety of these foods, everyday all the while being cognizant of the foods that in abundance reduce calcium uptake and absorption.
Calcium supplementation is another effective means to generate calcium storage in the body. Two reliable forms of calcium are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Although Calcium carbonate is relatively inexpensive, it requires stomach acid to digest and absorb and so needs to be taken with meals and for people with low stomach acidity this may be a challenge therefore, the citrate form would be the best consideration for these individuals. Supplementation for an adult should range between 700mG and 1000mG per day, with the exception of men who should consider 500mG per day as excess calcium has been implicated in aggressive prostate cancer risk.
We have been confused to believe that dairy and particularly milk are our only methods of obtaining healthful calcium and that if we do not calorie count our daily calcium intake we are liable to fall apart from osteoporosis one day. As I have outlined, this is simply not the case. Should you have any questions regarding your own calcium intake or risk for osteoporosis consult a qualified healthcare practitioner. In the meantime you can calculate your risk for osteoporosis with a very simple, reliable and effective equation:
Age – Weight (kg) = Chance of osteoporosis
If the answer is greater than 20, then your chance is approximately between 50 and 60%
If the answer is between 0 and 20, then your chance is approximately between 15 and 20%
If the answer is less than 0, then your chance is approximately less than 5%.
Dr. Bobby Parmar