Calcium & Vitamin D – Partners in Good Health

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Published: April 19, 2014

Health + Wellness

Men and women were not created the same – at least not in their needs for nutrients. There are a number of nutrients which are especially important to women. Much of the difference is related to the functions of the body which are unique to women and the natural history of getting older. Puberty, then child-bearing, then menopause and the associated hormonal changes all affect the nutritional needs of women. This article addresses two essential nutrients which are especially important in women.

Calcium is a mineral needed for strong bones and virtually every function of the human body. It’s stored in bones and teeth, supporting their structure and hardness. Calcium is needed for muscles to move and nerves to carry messages from the brain to every part of the body. It helps transport blood and has a role in the release of hormones and enzymes that affect every function of the body.

Calcium

The recommended daily intake for women 19-50 years of age is 1000 milligrams of calcium daily. After age 50, she needs 1200 milligrams per day. Good sources of calcium include:

  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Nigerian vegetables such as egg plant, amaranth (also called Greens, efo tete, African spinach) and okra
  • Fish consumed with its soft bones, such as sardines and salmon
  • Most grains (in lower concentration)
  • Breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soy and rice beverages, and tofu

Calcium is absorbed best when ingested with food and with Vitamin D.  Tums and Rolaids, antacid tablets chewed to relieve heartburn, are good sources. The tablets contain calcium carbonate, the form of calcium that the body absorbs best. It should be taken in amounts of no more than 500 mg at a time. For 1000 mg per day, divide it into two doses.

Nigerian vegetables rich in calcium:

– Egg plant (Garden eggs)

– Amaranth (also called Greens, Efo tete, African spinach)

– Okra

Insufficient intake of calcium has no effect short-term. The blood maintains the normal calcium level by drawing calcium out of the bones.  A long-term calcium deficit can have severe consequences. The body will develop osteoporosis – a low bone density which increases risk of fracture. Elderly women are especially vulnerable to fracture of the hip, either spontaneously or in a fall. Fifty percent of elderly people will die within one year of a hip fracture. The spinal bones (vertebrae)  can fracture, crushing into themselves, an extremely painful condition for which there is little treatment. Excessive calcium intake can cause constipation, iron or zinc deficiencies, and increase risk of kidney stones. The upper limit of safe ingestion is 2000-2500 mg per day.

Eggplant

Calcium supplements can interfere with or interact with medications and other supplements when taken together. Calcium interferes with biophosphonates used to treat osteoporosis, some antibiotics and some diuretics. It interferes with antacids containing aluminum and magnesium.

Vitamin D is needed for countless body functions and to maintain strong bones. It does so by helping the body to absorb calcium from food and supplements. People who get too little vitamin D may develop soft, brittle, thin bones, a condition in adults known as osteomalicia. It’s needed for muscles to move and for nerves to carry messages from the brain to the body. The immune system requires vitamin D to fight off bacteria and viruses.It helps protect the elderly from osteoporosis.

The body makes vitamin D from sunlight shining directly on the skin. Skin exposed through a window does not produce vitamin D. Cloudy days, shade and having dark-colored skin also cut down on the vitamin D produced in skin. Despite the importance of exposing skin to make vitamin D, it is important to protect the skin by covering it with clothing or using sunscreen, to lessen the risk of skin cancer. People who don’t get sunlight should get vitamin D in other good sources in their diet or in supplements.

The recommended daily intake for women 19-70 years old is 600 IU (International Units), aged 71 years and older is 800 IU. Very few foods naturally have vitamin D. Some sources of vitamin D:

Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel – the best sources

Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks provide small amounts

Mushrooms provide some vitamin D. In some mushrooms that are newly available in stores, the vitamin D content is boosted by exposure to ultraviolet light

Vitamin D is added to many breakfast cereals, some juices, yogurt and soy beverages

Vitamin D is found in supplements and fortified foods in two forms: D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 ( cholecalciferol).

Some groups of people are at greater than average risk of vitamin D deficiency: Breast-fed infants, older adults, people with dark skin, people with inflammatory bowel disease, (which interferes with absorption, and obesity, (fat binds to vitamin D).

okra

Okra

Vitamin D can be harmful when amounts in the blood become too high. Signs of toxicity include nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, weakness, and weight loss. As the blood level of calcium rises (in response to excess Vitamin D) it can cause confusion, disorientation, and problems with heart rhythm. It can also damage kidneys. The safe upper limit for women is 4000 IU per day. Vitamin D, like most supplements may interact or interfere with medication and other supplements. Prednisone and other corticosteroid medications prescribed to reduce inflammation impair the body’s use of vitamin D, which leads to lower calcium absorption and loss of bone over time.   The weight loss drug orlistat (Xenacal, Alli) and the cholesterol drug cholestyramine (Questran) can reduce the absorption of Vitamin D and other fat-soluble vitamins (A,E,K). There are others.

Tell your doctor,  pharmacist and any other health care providers about any dietary supplements and medications you take. They can tell you if those dietary supplements might interact or interfere with your prescription or over-the-counter medicines, or if they’ll interfere with how your body absorbs, uses, or breaks down nutrients.

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Radiant is a bi-annual print and digital health magazine dedicated to the discerning African woman and her journey to wellness through health, beauty and culture. Available at Barnes & Noble stores and other retailers (see stockists) and online. Ships worldwide. Subscribe to our newsletter and get a free digital copy of issue No.06.

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