Although it is the most abundant mineral in the human body, maintaining calcium intake below recommended levels can have long-term damaging effects on health. Try this quiz to see if you know where calcium comes from and how much you need.
Question: Only children need milk because their bones and teeth are still growing.
Answer: People need calcium throughout life. Whereas growing children--up to age 10--need two to four times more calcium than adults pound for pound, the need for calcium for children ages 10 through 18 is greater than any other time except pregnancy. During adulthood, bones continue to form until about 40. Bones may never reach potential strength and density if daily calcium intake is consistently below the Recommended Dietary Allowance, which can lead to brittle bones in later life.
The calcium RDA for the average healthy adult is 800 milligrams each day, the equivalent of two cups of milk. However, many researchers believe the RDA should be raised to 1,000 milligrams a day (three glasses of milk) for pre-menopausal women and 1,500 milligrams for post-menopausal women to avoid bone loss in later life.
Q: Insufficient calcium intake may increase the risk for: osteoporosis, alveolar (jaw) bone loss, hypertension, or all of these.
A: All of these diseases. Studies have determined that calcium deficiency is a key factor in the development of osteoporosis, a bone-thinning and weakening disease that can cause fractures of the hip, spine and wrist. Osteoporosis affects one in four Caucasian women older than 60 and is responsible for more than 1 million fractures a year at a medical cost of an estimated $4.2 billion.
Alveolar bone loss after losing teeth can lead to poorly fitting dentures and problems in chewing, resulting in a diet restricted to soft foods.
Some recent studies indicate that a low intake of calcium increases blood pressure of those affected by hypertension, whereas increasing calcium may actually protect against hypertension.
Q: Calcium supplements provide the same nutrients as foods containing calcium.
A: False. Foods contain a number of nutrients that work in harmony to help the body make the most efficient use of various vitamins, minerals and trace elements food supplies. Calcium-rich milk also has Vitamin D, essential to maximum calcium absorption. Milk and dairy products, which provide 74% of the calcium in the American diet, also contain protein, riboflavin, potassium, phosphorus and iron. Calcium supplements contain only that--calcium.
Q: Calcium helps: build strong teeth and bones, muscles relax and contract, regulate the heartbeat, clot the blood, all of these.
A: All of these. Ninety-nine percent of the body's calcium is found in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1% is in the blood and other body fluids and various soft tissues, where it also helps transmit nerve impulses, activate enzyme reactions and stimulate hormone secretions.