Bone Health and Calcium: Staying Strong This Winter
Earlier this week, we extolled the merits of vitamin D, which is in worryingly short supply during these blustery, showery and sometimes snowy winter months.
Doing so got us thinking about other vital nutrients that, while helping to promote good health throughout the year, prove especially beneficial during winter.
One such winter wonder is calcium.
Battling the Winter Bugs
Of course, there are a number of nutrients that fortify our bodies ahead of the dreaded seasonal chill. Vitamin C, for instance, if often touted for its preventive properties, which lessen your risk of catching a cold.
Other vitamins and minerals contribute towards the healthy functioning of the immune system, which is crucial for helping us fight off nasty seasonal infections. So what makes calcium so important during winter?
Well, for starters it’s the primary nutrient involved in building and maintaining strong and healthy bones. While that makes it vital throughout the year and indeed throughout our lives, it’s during winter that bone health is put to the test. We’ve all taken a fall on the ice at one stage or another and it’s never pleasant. More often than not, it’s also mortifying!
Good Bone Health Prevents Fractures
If you already eat a diet rich in calcium, with or without supplementation, chances are your bones will be strong enough to withstand most pratfalls. Healthy bones can also help prevent hip or other fractures that in some cases can lead to hospitalisation – and no-one likes to ring in Christmas or New Year from a hospital bed.
Incidentally, vitamin D plays a key role in helping our bodies absorb calcium, and like calcium, our need for vitamin D actually increases as we age.
While you’ll find vitamin D in foods like salmon, tuna, liver, eggs and fortified milks and cereals, useful dietary sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables, almonds, orange juice and dairy products.
Consider these nutrient bedfellows critical at every stage of your life, but take care to ensure an adequate supply of them as you enter middle age.
Calcium and Vitamin D Recommendations
The Food and Nutrition Board at the National Academies' Institute of Medicine recommends a 100% increase in vitamin D intake once you hit 50, and though the calcium requirement rises only modestly for females over the big five-oh, and men over the age of 70, consuming calcium becomes ever more important than before owing to age-related bone depletion.
Most of us reach peak bone mass between the ages of 25 and 30, and thereafter old bone starts to break down quicker than new bone can form. Think of calcium consumption as akin to depositing money in the bank, which might prove useful on a rainy – or icy – day. Incidentally, women require more calcium earlier than men because their bones are less dense, and bone loss accelerates at menopause due to dwindling hormone levels. That's right, the gods governing bone health are sexist.
The Many Functions of Calcium
Of course, calcium is needed for more than just strengthening bones – it also contributes to normal blood clotting, assists with nerve function and helps maintain a healthy heart. And the best form of it, by far, is natural calcium – derived from food and plants, not synthesised in a laboratory.
Ensure a natural supply of calcium and bones will remain tough and healthy; retaining a good level of fitness also helps. We’ve suggested some calcium-rich foods, but what foods should you be avoiding if you want to ensure strong bones?
Salt, for one. Sodium loots calcium from the bones, while sugar and refined grains promote bone loss. Cutting them out of your diet, or at the very least limiting your intake, is a positive step towards optimal bone health.
Every day throughout the holiday season, people present themselves at the emergency department having broken or fractured bones. While a diligent calcium intake won’t always save you from making such a trip, sometimes weak bones or osteoporosis is to blame.
Don’t fall victim to the ice this winter – grit your paving, watch your step, and when forces conspire to send you toppling to the ground, don’t let your first thought be “I should have taken more calcium!”