Calcium is extremely important for a number of body functions and can lead to many health benefits. These include:
- Blood clotting
- Muscle contraction
- Nerve function
- Disease prevention, including hypertension and obesity
- Support bone health via maintaining and strengthening bone density
Sustaining bone strength in the elderly cannot be stressed enough. Seniors are already at greater risk of falls and injury due to compromised balance and reduced muscle strength.
Unfortunately, seniors may be more susceptible to calcium deficiency which accelerates the risk of osteoporosis and falls. But what causes such vulnerability and how can seniors compensate for such a risk?
Find out senior calcium requirements and if supplements may be warranted.
Senior Calcium Deficiency Risks
If you have ever experienced muscle twitches and spasms, the body may be deficient in calcium. Irregular heartbeats and bone loss are also serious health consequences of low calcium levels.
While everyone can be at risk of these deficiencies, seniors are at greater risk related to a number of factors. These include a reduced appetite, less sun exposure, and altered nutrient use. Menopause likewise increases deficiency risk in women.
Seniors may have a reduced appetite and disinterest in food. This may be related to memory loss, a change in taste, or an underlying illness or condition.
Compromised food intake ultimately puts them at risk for nutritional deficiencies, including calcium.
Less Sun Exposure
Vitamin D helps absorb calcium from foods. Human skin can also produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
Seniors also have a decreased capacity to synthesize vitamin D even in the presence of sun exposure related to thinning skin.
Seniors who are immobile and housebound are also more likely to remain indoors and lessen sunlight exposure.
Altered Nutrient Use
When the body ages, body changes follow. More specifically, seniors have an altered ability to utilize ingested nutrients related to decreased intestinal absorption of calcium.
The kidneys also lessen their efficiency to retain calcium, subsequently causing increased calcium loss in the urine.
Senior Calcium Requirements & Sources
The average adult up to age 50 is recommended to 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily. But calcium needs tend to increase with age.
Male seniors aged 51 to 70 should consume at least 1,000 mg per day (mg/day). All seniors 71 years or older are recommended to 1,200 mg.
Recommended calcium for a senior woman also depends on age. Women aged 51 and older are encouraged to increase their needs to 1,200 mg. This is mostly related to menopause.
When a woman reaches menopause, her estrogen levels drop and can lead to bone loss. For some women, this bone loss is rapid and severe.
When it comes to vitamin D, adults aged 19 to 70 should obtain 600 international units (IU) daily. Seniors aged 71 and older are advised to 800 IU. At these recommended levels, the risk of falls and injury is shown to reduce by approximately 20 percent.
Calcium & Vitamin D Sources
Calcium is naturally lost from the body each day through skin, hair, nails, sweat, urine and feces. Since the body cannot produce calcium on its own, we must consume adequate calcium through food sources.
Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium, though there are additional sources that offer high amounts of calcium such as:
- Orange juice with added calcium
- Sesame seeds
- Nonfat mozzarella cheese
- Whole grain cereals
- Oriental radishes
- Sardines with bone
- Unsweetened almond milk
- Mature soybeans
- Collard greens
Calcium absorption is achieved by the consuming calcium-rich sources. But, again, absorption can be enhanced by vitamin D.
Interestingly, human skin can produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. But vitamin D is naturally supplied from a number of food sources, including
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Swiss cheese
- Cod liver oil
Like calcium, vitamin D can be added to foods. For instance, cereal, milk, yogurt, and orange juice are common fortified foods with vitamin D.
Should Seniors Take Calcium Supplements?
First and foremost, nutrition experts encourage seniors to try and obtain nutrients from food sources. They may then fill in the gaps with a multivitamin and supplement as needed.
Supplement recommendations likewise vary based on age and gender. Recommendations and results are also mixed.
A review of calcium intake presents some conflicting results related to health benefits and side effects:
- 1,200 mg calcium with 800 IU vitamin D best treats osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. However, some evidence shows 1,000 mg/d of elemental calcium supplements increases the incidence of cardiovascular events.
- A high intake of dietary calcium or supplemental calcium (>500 mg/d) decreases the risk of kidney stones formation as well. But a 12-year prospective study suggests high dietary calcium could reduce kidney stones, whereas the risk increases in women with high supplemental calcium.
- Other research shows heart disease might be protected with calcium supplements. This includes lowering hypertension risks.
- Calcium supplements may increase constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Other research shows digestive benefit with calcium supplements, including reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.
What’s more, the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests most adults do not need calcium and vitamin D supplements.
How to Ensure Adequate Calcium
Navigating the recommendations regarding supplements can be confusing and conflicting.
Let it be known, though, health experts recognize the importance of calcium and vitamin D on bone and overall health. They also commonly agree people rely too much on supplements rather than focusing on diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors.
All-in-all, vitamin D and calcium supplements may be recommended if dietary intake of the nutrients are low. American Bone Health also recommends the “Calcium Rule of 300” to help determine if a supplement is warranted.
Also consult with a primary healthcare provider to determine whether or not taking a supplement is beneficial. They can likewise help determine which supplement may be best. This is because they come in various forms such as calcium oxalate, calcium citrate, and calcium carbonate.
Why seniors are more vulnerable to calcium and vitamin D deficiency. International Osteoporosis Foundation.