There’s a recurring news story about calcium supplements that a number of my patients have found worrisome and confusing. It’s worth touching on and it reminded me that really, it’s an opportunity to talk to you about calcium’s importance to oral and overall health.
First the worrisome story. In August 2010 The British Medical Journal published a review of studies about women at risk for fractures and loss of bone density. Surprisingly, they discovered that women taking calcium supplements had a modest increased risk of heart attacks and no benefit from the supplements. Their recommendation seems reasonable: a reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in osteoporosis management.
Yet if you are over 60, your physician may recommend a calcium intake of 1,000-1,200 mg per day. If you have any concerns about the relative benefits of starting or continuing with supplements, I encourage you to discuss them with your physician. Their value to you depends on your individual health status as well as your diet.
Any balanced diet isn’t complete without calcium, the main nutritional mineral needed for building strong teeth and bones, which contain 99% of the body’s supply. However, the remaining 1% circulates in the blood to aid heart function, blood clotting, the conduction of nerve impulses, and muscle contraction.
If the level of calcium does not remain constant and adequate, your body can pull calcium from your bones which, over time, will lead to osteoporosis which can result in broken bones. Inadequate calcium intake has also been linked to health issues such as hypertension and toxemia in pregnancy, which is characterized by high blood pressure.
In general, experts believe that North Americans, particularly adults, do not consume enough calcium each day. But how much calcium do you need for a lifetime of healthy teeth and bones?
The most effective amount for adults is from 800-1,200 mg of calcium a day combined with a good exercise program. Remember vitamin D3 for helping your body absorb calcium.
Calcium is especially important for growing children. We recommend 500-700 mg a day of calcium for children depending on their age and significantly more for teenagers and expectant or nursing mothers.
Many things we eat and drink have calcium in them, with dairy products usually being your best source. Adults can get their recommended daily amount by drinking 3-4 glasses of milk or an equivalent measure of yogurt or cheese (1½ ounces of cheese equals an eight-ounce glass of milk). You can add milk to soups, sauces, and desserts. Coffee cream, artificial creamer, and whipped topping as well as cream cheese, sour cream, and whipping cream, contain little or no calcium, but you can replace sour cream or cream cheese with fat-free yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese mixed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar.
If you can’t tolerate dairy, then fortified alternatives made from almonds, soy, or rice are an option, as well as fresh vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and collard greens, and canned seafood like sardines and salmon. Nuts like almonds are also high in calcium.
Regardless of your age, calcium provides many benefits for your oral and overall health. If you’re not sure you’re getting enough dietary calcium, please ask your physician, my dental team, or me to suggest ways to achieve the calcium intake that’s right for you.