“Calcium is good for your bones.” You’ve probably heard that phrase countless times. But did you know that vitamin D is just as important?
According to a recent study done in the U.S., calcium and vitamin D supplementation together can significantly reduce the risk of stress fractures occurring in women.
More than 5,200 female Navy recruits, ages 17 to 35, were divided into two groups. One group received daily supplements of 2,000 mg of calcium and 800 IU of vitamin D. The other group received placebo pills.
During the course of the eight-week study, 170 of the recruits in the placebo group suffered stress fractures. This was 25% higher than the group taking supplements.
“What really surprised us was that calcium/vitamin D supplements made a significant difference in such a short period of time. Frankly, we were not sure we would see any statistically significant results in only eight weeks,” said principal investigator Joan Lappe, a professor of nursing and medicine at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
What role did vitamin D play in this study?
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Without it, you can’t form enough of the hormone “calcitrol.” This, in turn, means that you can’t absorb enough calcium through the foods you eat. When this happens, your body must get its calcium from its stores in the skeleton, thus preventing the formation of strong, new bone mass.
There are three ways that you can get vitamin D. The first is through your skin. Fifteen minutes in the sun a few times a week without sunscreen is enough for most people to manufacture and store all the vitamin D they need. You can also get vitamin D in supplement form. It is recommended that you get between 400 and 800 IU of vitamin D daily. You can also include vitamin D-rich foods in your diet such as egg yolks, liver, fortified milk, and saltwater fish.
Calcium is important not only for your bones, but helps to keep your heart, muscles, and nerves functioning properly. If you are low in calcium, you may be at risk for developing osteoporosis. Low calcium intake throughout life can lead to low bone mass and high fracture rates. It is recommended that men and women over the age of 50 get 1,200 mg of calcium per day.
Besides the obvious sources of calcium — milk and milk products — you’ll also find calcium in sardines and salmon, collard greens, figs, and soybeans.
You can also increase your calcium intake by following these suggestions:
— Add nonfat powdered milk to soups, casseroles, and drinks. — Buy calcium fortified juices, cereals, and breads. — Use yogurt in recipes that require a thicker texture. — If you buy bottled water, know that some brands are fortified with calcium.
If you need to take a calcium supplement to meet your daily requirement, know that calcium is easier to absorb when taken in small doses of 500 mg or less, several times throughout the day. It has also been found that many people absorb calcium supplements better when taken with food, so try to have them with your meals.