You both need about the same amount of dietary calcium. Calcium’s role in bone health isn’t limited to growing children and teens. In adults, eating too little calcium is linked with osteoporosis.
How much is enough?
The amount of calcium you need varies throughout your life. Greatest needs occur during the period of rapid growth among children and adolescents and among pregnant and nursing women. After about age 30, the amount of bone you form typically reaches its maximum. Bone formation and bone loss are balanced. For this reason, the RDA for calcium drops from a high of 1,200 milligrams for adolescents to 800 milligrams for adults older than 25.
The panel of researchers have agreed you need more calcium because
You absorb less calcium
Calcium absorption decreases as you age, especially after about age 65. You also make less vitamin D–essential for enhancing the amount of calcium that ultimately reaches your bones.
If you’re a woman
Your estrogen level falls–Estrogen slows calcium loss from bones. At menopause when your estrogen level drops, bone loss accelerates. During the first six to eight years of menopause, estrogen replacement therapy slows bone loss. That’s why women who take estrogen need less calcium than women who don’t take the hormone. After about 10 years, estrogen’s effects are less dominant and calcium’s effects increase. Supplemental amounts of calcium in the range of 1,500 milligrams seem to reduce bone loss.
Ways to get more calcium
To meet the higher calcium recommendations
Choose foods first–Dairy products are your richest sources of calcium. Select low–fat items such as skim milk or low–fat yogurt to limit calories and fat. If you don’t or can’t drink milk, some kinds of leafy green vegetables and legumes, plus calcium–fortified products, are other ways to boost your calcium intake. To fortify your own foods, add a tablespoon or two of nonfat dry milk to baked goods, casseroles, meatloaf or hot beverages. Consider a supplement–Depending on your diet, food alone can provide you with recommended amounts of calcium. If your diet doesn’t include dairy products, however, you may need a calcium supplement.
Tips for taking a supplement
Food is the best way to get calcium because it contains a variety of essential nutrients. But if you need a supplement:
- Take small doses
Limit single doses to no more than 600 milligrams of elemental (available) calcium. Your body absorbs small doses best.
- Take with meals
Although some foods may interfere with calcium absorption, taking a supplement with meals is most convenient. Many older adults also have reduced levels of stomach acid. By stimulating acid production, eating enhances calcium absorption.
- Add vitamin D
If you’re not taking a multivitamin, choose a calcium supplement that also provides 200 to 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D.
- Keep calcium in perspective
Getting enough calcium in your diet may help slow bone loss and reduce your risk of osteoporosis. But remember, regular weight–bearing exercise also helps keep your bones strong. And if you’re a woman, estrogen replacement, combined with exercise and adequate dietary calcium, offers the best defense against bone loss and fracture.