Calcium is essential for strong bones. As we get older, our bones start to lose calcium, and we begin to lose more bone than we build. A loss of bone density is called osteopenia. The most severe form of osteopenia – osteoporosis – is when bone fractures happen easily.
Osteoporosis is much more common in women, whose bones are at their strongest in their 30s and then begin to decline once estrogen levels begin to drop.
One way to maintain bone health is to ensure your body is getting enough calcium through diet and supplements.
“Our goal from a rheumatology perspective is to preventing fracture, especially fragility fracture, which happens when the bones in the leg and foot are so weak that they can break simply from standing or stepping,” says Constance Park, APRN-CNP, a nurse practitioner in the Division of Rheumatology at MetroHealth.
Starting at age 51, the recommended daily amount of calcium is 1,200 mg for women and 1,000 mg for men. Starting at age 70, men are advised to increase their daily calcium to 1,200 mg.
“Ideally, as much of that should be coming from dietary sources because that calcium is better absorbed into the body,” Park says.
These foods are the most calcium-rich:
- Dairy products (cheese, milk, yogurt)
- Calcium-fortified foods and beverages (soy products, almond milk, soy milk, etc.)
- Dark green, leafy vegetables (kale, broccoli, etc.)
- Canned salmon
There are two primary kinds of calcium supplements.
- Calcium carbonate is the most common one in stores. It’s less expensive and a “good first choice,” Park says. Absorption is better when taken with food. Not all people should take this type of calcium supplement. If you take medications for indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux or stomach ulcers, check with your primary care provider first.
- Calcium citrate can be taken on an empty stomach, and it’s more easily absorbed than calcium carbonate. But it’s more expensive and doesn’t contain as much elemental calcium, the actual amount of calcium in the supplement. which means you’ll need to take more tablets.
Whichever supplement you choose, if you take more than one tablet a day, they should be spaced out since our bodies an only absorb about 600 mg of calcium at a time.
And since most of us don’t get enough vitamin D naturally, talk with your primary care provider about getting a blood test to measure your levels of vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. If you have a vitamin D deficiency because of a lack of exposure to sunlight or a medical condition, a daily supplement should be added.
As we age, it’s important to talk to your provider about whether you have a family history of osteoporosis and/or an individual history of fractures – even those sustained in childhood. That will help determine when you should get a bone density test.
If you don’t have a primary care provider, please call 216-778-2273 to schedule an appointment with a provider near you.
Visit our Rheumatology webpage for more information about Rheumatic diseases.