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
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.