For women, calcium is one of the most important nutrients required during all stages of life. It is essential to the health of our bones, teeth, skin, heart, muscle, nerves and for proper blood clotting. Between age 12 through 35, the body accumulates most of the calcium it will use to prevent bone loss common in post- menopausal women. During this time intake should be between 1000 and 1500 mg/day (adolescent and pregnant woman requiring the most).
Meeting these requirements through our diet can be difficult. Vegetarians tend to assimilate calcium more efficiently therefore their daily requirement may be lower. Factors such as a diet high in phosphorus and refined sugar (pop, junk, and convenience foods) and high protein intake lead to calcium depletion. Caffeine tends to interfere with absorption as does hormonal changes such as a drop in estrogen during menopause.
During pregnancy, a woman's body ensures that the baby receives an adequate amount of calcium. Throughout weeks 20-40, the fetus will accumulate up to 28g of calcium daily. Luckily the body develops the ability to retain greater amounts of calcium from our diet as well as absorb more through the intestinal lining.
Well known for preventing bone loss, this mineral also has a relaxing effect on muscle. Leg cramps, menstrual pain, and back problems all benefit from calcium. Some studies show that it lowers blood pressure and helps to strengthen the heart beat. It also strengthens the transmission of nerve impulses and can there fore be used in the treatment of stress-related illnesses and nervous disorders. It has a very calming effect and works well when taken at bedtime for insomnia.
Good vegetarian sources of dietary calcium include broccoli, kale, almonds, blackstrap molasses, sesame seeds, kelp and tofu. Non-vegetarian sources include dairy products, salmon (with bones) and sardines. Because dairy may contain residual amounts of hormones and antibiotics, and fish has a possible risk of heavy metal and toxic chemical (PCB's, DDT) contamination, vegetarian sources are recommended, (especially during pregnancy).
Calcium supplements can help protect against deficiency. Look for calcium citrate on the label and avoid bone meal, dolomite, and oyster shell as these may contain high lead levels. Liquid supplements are absorbed well and are recommended if you take calcium to prevent cramping and insomnia. Make sure it contains equal or half the amount of magnesium. The addition of vitamin D is good, but don't exceed 400mg of it per day. For best absorption, divide doses of calcium throughout the day and take no more than 500mg at a time for best absorption.
It is important to look toward good nutrition to provide the bulk of your daily requirements, then supplement the remainder. 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup tofu, 1/4 cup almonds, 1 tbls basil, plus a 600mg supplement furnishes enough calcium for one day – and your body benefits from the countless additional nutrients your meal provides!
Stacelynn Caughlan is a Clinical Nutritionist and Certified Herbalist who specializes in pregnancy, birth and childhood. She is currently the editor of http://www.motherandchildhealth.com an online resource for women looking for information on natural health and healing for themselves and their families.