Calcium deficiency leads to osteoporosis, a crippling disease in which the skeleton becomes weak and prone to fracture.
Some people with osteoporosis have no symptoms, but others experience:
A gradual loss of height and a stooped back
Fractures and breaks that occur easily
Loss of bone in the jaw
Complications include blood clots and pneumonia
Osteoporosis causes a person’s bones to become thin and weak.
From about 35 years of age, bone structure changes and becomes less dense. This combines with other factors such as:
Inadequate calcium intake over the course of your life
Poor bone formation from childhood
A reduction in the amount of calcium taken up into the bones after menopause caused by low oestrogen levels.
Some diseases, such as those affecting the parathyroid gland, also affect calcium levels and can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.
For better absorption, your calcium supplement should also contain the co-factors vitamin D, magnesium, zinc, vitamin K and manganese
Phytoestrogen supplements, such as those based on soy, may be a suitable alternative for some women for whom HRT is unsuitable
Ensure your diet contains enough calcium by including low-fat dairy products, broccoli, cauliflower, salmon, tofu, and leafy green vegetables. At the same time, avoid high protein foods such as red meats and most cereal grains which increase calcium excretion and bone loss. Excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine should also be avoided for this reason.
Regular exercise is important to keep the muscles surrounding the spine strong and healthy. Weight-bearing exercise is best, however if your bones and joints are weak, swimming may be more appropriate for you – ask your healthcare professional or physiotherapist.
To avoid osteoporosis it is important to be conscious of your calcium intake from an early age. Taking calcium supplements is recommended to reduce the likelihood of becoming osteoporotic in later life – make sure you maximise your calcium absorption by always using a calcium form that is easily absorbed (such as calcium phosphate, calcium citrate or calcium hydroxyapatite).
Weight-bearing exercise such as weight lifting and walking is essential to keep your bones supple and healthy. Aim to exercise for 30-45 minutes at least three times per week (always check with your health care professional before starting a new exercise programme).
Avoid carbonated soft drinks and antacids containing aluminium, as they interfere with calcium absorption.
Smoking increases the likelihood of entering menopause early – stopping smoking may prolong your bone health.
If you have osteoporosis or are at high risk of developing it, your health care professional will prescribe medication to delay bone loss and reduce the risk of fracture.