How much Calcium do you really need?
By Raisa Weisspapir
My daughter is lactose- intolerant and can’t drink milk. What should I do?
My 6 years old son is allergic to milk and dairy products. What can I do to prevent calcium deficiency?
Our 9 years daughter broke her leg twice. Does she need calcium supplements and which one is the best?
Practicing for many years I have been asked almost every day about calcium deficiency in children from newborn to teenagers, and in adults too (hair loss in nursing mothers, osteoporosis during menopause, irregular heartbeats, etc). I think the best way to learn a little more about such a mysterious mineral Calcium, is, to begin with, a short introduction about your bodily needs.
So, why do we need Calcium?
You probably know that calcium is the most crucial mineral for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. But the importance of calcium doesn't stop there. It is also necessary for the proper functioning of muscles, nerves, heart, glandular secretion and essential in many of the body's metabolic processes. It accounts for 1 to 2 percent of adult body weight, 99 percent of which is stored in bones and teeth. On the cellular level, calcium is used to regulate the permeability and electrical properties of biological membranes (such as cell walls. It even helps your blood to clot faster in case of injury.
How does your body regulate Calcium metabolism?
When you eat food rich in calcium or calcium supplements, the body works hard to convert this form of calcium into a soluble one. This process starts in your stomach. In order to “breakdown” calcium and make it absorbable in the small intestine, you need a good amount of stomach acid. If you have any stomach problems, stomach acid declines and absorption of nutrients decreases leading to deficiencies.
The level of calcium is carefully controlled and mostly by hormones. The three major regulators of blood calcium are parathyroid hormone, vitamin D, and calcitonin. Parathyroid hormone is normally released by the four parathyroid glands in the neck behind your thyroid, in response to low calcium levels in the bloodstream.
Parathyroid hormone is very important:
It increases calcium absorption from food in your digestive system
It helps the bones to release some of their calcium stores
It causes the kidneys to excrete more phosphorous, which indirectly raises calcium levels
How much calcium can your body really absorb?
The amount of calcium you absorb from the foods depends not only on its quantity. More importantly, it depends on: how easily it’s absorbed (bioavailability), the amount of calcium already stored in your body, and what kind of calcium-rich food you eat.
Some foods can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, such as foods high in oxalates. For example, ½ cup of cooked spinach has 122 mg of calcium, but the bioavailability of that calcium is close to zero because spinach is high in oxalates.
If you rely on vegetables as your source of calcium, you should choose low-oxalate vegetables more often, such as kale, broccoli, bok choy, mustard, turnip greens, etc.
Factors that Decrease the Absorption of Calcium are:
Low stomach acid, ageing and decreased synthesis of vitamin D from the skin
High doses of calcium
Meals high in fat or protein
Excess phosphorous consumption (as in carbonated sodas, processed foods, junk food and sugar)
High dietary fiber and phytates (a form of phytic acid found in dietary fiber and the husks of whole grains, like barley, oat, or beans)
High dietary oxalates: blackberries, blueberries, citrus peel gooseberries raspberries, rhubarb, beet leaves, leeks, parsley, or spinach.
How much calcium does your child need?
Recommended daily intake (of elemental calcium) varies accordingly:
For children 7 - 10 years 700- 1100 mg
For children 4 - 6 years 600 mg
From newborn 0- 3 years 250- 550 mg
Adolescents male 800-1100 mg
Adolescents female 700-1100 mg
It is also recommended to take vitamin D to improve calcium absorption. Please get the advice of your health care specialist about your child's individual needs.
High Calcium Foods
Cow's milk and dairy products are probably the most well -known dietary sources of calcium. However, many people are lactose-intolerant, allergic to cow's milk, or may wish to exclude dairy products from their diet.
Besides these problems, studies have shown that consuming large quantities of dairy foods may actually end up robbing the body of calcium. Fortunately, there are many healthy non-dairy sources of calcium that you can incorporate in your diet.
Most easily absorbable Calcium is from the vegetable kingdom: from green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, fresh fruits and raw vegetables, and seaweeds.
What about kids who can't have dairy products?
Although the easiest route to giving kids the calcium they need might be pouring a cool glass of milk or serving up a tasty cup of yogurt or grilled cheese sandwich, not every child can consume dairy delights. Here are a few examples of health conditions, when you need to avoid dairy foods:
Kids with lactose intolerance: Kids with lactose intolerance don't have enough of the intestinal enzyme (lactase) that helps digest the sugar (lactose) in dairy products. These kids may have cramps or diarrhea after drinking milk or eating dairy products.
Kids with milk allergy: The proteins in milk may cause allergic reactions in some people. Casein is the principal protein in cow's milk, accounting for about 80% of the total milk proteins. Casein is what makes up the curd that forms when milk is left to sour. The remaining 20% of cow's milk proteins are contained in the whey, the watery part that's left after the curd is removed. A child may be allergic to proteins in either the casein or the whey parts of milk and sometimes even to both.
If you think your infant may be allergic to milk, talk to your doctor. Maybe the cow's milk-based formula may need to be switched to a hypoallergenic formula.
Many parents concern about whether a dairy-free vegetarian diet can supply their kids with enough calcium. Although it can be more of a challenge to get the recommended amounts of calcium in a vegetables-only diet, good sources of calcium include dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, chickpeas, and calcium-fortified products, including orange juice, soy and rice drinks, and cereals.
What is the best calcium supplement?
Have you tried to choose the best calcium supplement? I would probably feel confused too! There are so many forms and combinations of calcium on the market and sometimes it’s hard to understand the label.
Thousands of dollars are spent on consuming different combinations of Calcium supplements, such as Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Citrate, Calcium Orotate, etc. However, some of them are very poorly absorbed in your body. Besides that, Calcium supplements from oyster shell, bone meal, or dolomite, may contain heavy metals. The hair analysis of my patients, who have been taking certain calcium supplements, usually shows an excessive amount of lead.
To make sure you are taking a good quality calcium supplement you can always consult with your health care specialist.
Why homeopathic medicine?
In reality, calcium deficiency is a much more complicated problem, than just a simple low intake of calcium with food or supplements.
Calcium deficiency mainly occurs due to hormonal disturbances such as: low level of parathyroid hormone, inefficient parathyroid hormone, or deficiency of Vitamin D (which is also regulated by hormones).
If your body can’t absorb properly a necessary amount of calcium from dietary sources or supplements, it doesn’t really matter how much you are taking. The body will still have a problem to absorb and to maintain calcium in a normal range.
One of the amazing capabilities of Homeopathic medicine is to regulate bodily metabolism, which was known a long time ago. A holistic approach of homeopathy helps to understand each patient in a better way. It helps to summarize and analyze all specific symptoms of the ill person’s manifestations. In my practice, I deal almost every day with children and adults suffering from calcium deficiencies.
Among different homeopathic remedies, I prescribe tissue salts: Calcarea phosphorica, and Calcarea fluorica, which are very effective.
Homeopathic remedies are easy and fully absorbed in the body, and they do not need to be excreted. They go right away to your bloodstream and do not require stomach acid. They do not contain any heavy metals. Prepared in a specific way and highly diluted, they are able to gently regulate calcium metabolism even in newborn babies and nursing mothers.
Tips for parents:
You can offer your child plenty of non-dairy foods such as:
Add white beans to your child's favourite soups
Top salads or cereals with slivered almonds and chickpeas
Serve chilli with red beans
Pour a tall glass of calcium-fortified juice for breakfast
On grocery-shopping excursions, look for calcium-fortified foods, including breads and cereals
Serve more dark green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, collard greens, or Chinese cabbage) with meals
Although it's best for kids to get the calcium they need through a calcium-rich diet, sometimes that just may not be possible. Discuss calcium supplements with your child's doctor if you're concerned that your kid or teen isn't getting enough calcium
Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, so it's important that your child has enough of this nutrient as well. Made by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight, vitamin D is also found in fortified dairy and other products, fish, and egg yolks
Also, don't forget to motivate your child to be involved in regular physical activities and exercise, which are very important to bone health. Weight-bearing exercises such as jumping rope, jogging, and walking can also help develop and maintain strong bones. In fact, current scientific evidence suggests that, for kids and teens, exercise may be even more strongly linked to better bone health than calcium intake.
Dear parents, when you act as a role model consuming foods that are high in the nutrient and exercising yourself — you can easily encourage your children to have a healthy diet and a lifestyle too!