Smorgasbord Health Column – Nutrients the Body Needs – Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body

health column final

The series on the nutrients the body needs, continues with Calcium. There will be further posts on the need for this mineral in the next week or so because of its importance in so many processes in the body.

Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body

Calcium is the most abundant and essential mineral in the body. There are about two or three pounds of calcium, which is mainly found in the teeth and the bones. Apart from the more obvious role in their formation it is also essential for the efficient functioning of many essential systems in the body.

Like all nutrients there is a great deal of research being conducted into the various ways that calcium works within our bodies and our precise requirement for it. For example there is some indication that a higher intake of calcium can protect against cardiovascular disease, mainly in women.

There is also some evidence to suggest that women cannot absorb calcium prior to menstruating and that there may be an accumulative deficiency that contributes to PMS and menopause symptoms and also degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis. Certainly women who take in additional calcium have reported a reduction in those symptoms.

progression-of-osteoporosisOur bones are not static and are constantly being broken down and formed. They are a living tissue made primarily from collagen which forms the framework whilst the calcium hardens the structure. After 40 years old more of the bone is broken down and less is manufactured; which is why it is important to make sure that you are consuming the right balance of dietary calcium to prevent osteoporosis. Other vitamins such as D and K and minerals are involved in the structure of bone and I will cover those in later posts.

There is a much smaller amount of calcium outside of the teeth and bones and this is essential for the contraction and relaxation of our muscles, including our heart beat. The coagulation of blood, transmissions of nerve impulses, activation of enzymes within the various operating systems and stimulation of our hormone secretion.

For example if you suffer from leg cramps frequently you may have a deficit of calcium in your diet.

Word of warning about supplementation

If you are at risk from kidney stones you need to be careful about taking in calcium supplements and this also applies when taking in additional dietary calcium in the form of dairy products if you are suffering from prostate cancer. One of the reasons for this is that excess calcium depletes the body of Vitamin D, which is essential for our immune systems and may also protect against prostate cancer.

If you are supplementing choose a formula that includes both Calcium and Vitamin D to aid absorption. As it is rare for a complete deficiency of calcium in our western culture it is important to ask the advice of a qualified sales person in the health store or the pharmacist. Keep a food diary for a week and take with you so that they can see what you are currently consuming.

Calcium is one of the nutrients that works more efficiently in conjunction with others.


The best dietary sources of calcium are through eating moderate amounts of dairy products such as milk, cheese and butter. If you find that cow’s milk does not agree with you then try goat’s milk products from time to time as the different antibody does not usually cause an intolerance.

Eat fish such as sardines and canned salmon with the bones, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, watercress (more calcium than milk) and soy products such as tofu.

You will also find good amounts in dried apricots, figs, kiwi fruit and oranges.

 orangesI will cover the most common symptoms of a deficiency of calcium next week and spotting the early signs can be very helpful.

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998-2018

A little bit about me nutritionally.

A little about me from a nutritional perspective. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago. I qualified as a nutritional therapist and practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as being a consultant for radio. My first centre was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Here are my health books including a men’s health manual and my anti-aging book.

All available in Ebook from

And Amazon UK:

Comprehensive guide to the body, and the major organs and the nutrients needed to be healthy 360 pages, A4:

Thank you for dropping in and if you have any questions fire away.. If you would like to as a private question then my email is I am no longer in practice and only too pleased to help in any way I can. thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Top to Toe – The Skeleton -The progresson of Osteoporosis over 50.

health column final

As we get into our middle years and with a reduction in protective hormones a lifetime of inadequate nutrition and weight bearing exercise can lead to a weakened skeleton.  As our bones become less dense we are at risk of fractures and loss of joint flexibility.

Osteoporosis is more prevalent in women than men but affects both.  Last time I covered some of the nutrients needed to ensure dense bones and a strong skeletal structure throughout our lifetime.  I am repeating the nutritional information at the bottom of this post.

Statistics for Osteoporosis

Worldwide, osteoporosis causes more than 8.9 million fractures annually, resulting in an osteoporotic fracture every 3 seconds.

Osteoporosis is estimated to affect 200 million women worldwide – approximately one-tenth of women aged 60, one-fifth of women aged 70, two-fifths of women aged 80 and two-thirds of women aged 90.

Osteoporosis affects an estimated 75 million people in Europe, USA and Japan

For the year 2000, there were an estimated 9 million new osteoporotic fractures, of which 1.6 million were at the hip, 1.7 million were at the forearm and 1.4 million were clinical vertebral fractures. Europe and the Americas accounted for 51% of all these fractures, while most of the remainder occurred in the Western Pacific region and Southeast Asia.

Worldwide, 1 in 3 women over age 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, as will 1 in 5 men aged over 50.

80%, 75%, 70% and 58% of forearm, humerus, hip and spine fractures, respectively, occur in women. Overall, 61% of osteoporotic fractures occur in women, with a female-to-male ratio of 1.6.

Nearly 75% of hip, spine and distal forearm fractures occur among patients 65 years old or over

A 10% loss of bone mass in the vertebrae can double the risk of vertebral fractures, and similarly, a 10% loss of bone mass in the hip can result in a 2.5 times greater risk of hip fracture

By 2050, the worldwide incidence of hip fracture in men is projected to increase by 310% and 240% in women.

The combined lifetime risk for hip, forearm and vertebral fractures coming to clinical attention is around 40%, equivalent to the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Osteoporosis takes a huge personal and economic toll. In Europe, the disability due to osteoporosis is greater than that caused by cancers (with the exception of lung cancer) and is comparable or greater than that lost to a variety of chronic non-communicable diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and high blood pressure related heart disease

  progression-of-osteoporosisThe progression of osteoporosis.

Unfortunately, as we approach middle age it is not just a few wrinkles and dodgy arteries we have to worry about.  Osteoporosis can develop in both women and men but women are at a higher risk over 50 and are four times more likely to suffer from the disease than men.

Osteoporosis is when the bones in the body thin and begin to develop small holes reducing the density. The bones also become brittle, leading to fractures. Some of these may go undetected as they can be very small. For example, if you suffer from consistent back pain, do not dismiss out of hand, as you could be experiencing very small hairline fractures in your spine. If the condition is not treated or diagnosed, these small compression fractures can cause a vertebra to collapse, a condition that is extremely painful and difficult to treat.

The progress of the disease is subtle. You reach maximum bone density in your 30’s and then your bone strength will slowly decrease naturally. Then add into the mix the reduction of both oestrogen hormones in women over 50 and the decrease in testosterone in men of a similar age, and you have a further loss of density.

Normal bone


Osteoporosis affected bone.


There are other risk factors to taken into account.

For both men and women, having a slight body frame and being very slim means that there is less bone to begin with.

Smoking from an early age for a lifetime will put you at higher risk.

Those suffering from certain eating disorders can show decreased bone density in their teens and 20’s due to vitamin and mineral deficiency. (I have seen a 16 year old girl’s x-ray showing the bone density of an 80 year old woman)!

There can be a family history of osteoporosis, if not mother then look to grandmothers.

If you have a history of repeated fractures then it may be that you have brittle bones and you will need to be additionally careful and under medical supervision as you move into middle age.

If you already suffer from rheumatoid arthritis you could be at a higher risk of osteoporosis.

Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to thinning of the bones.

If you have stopped exercising – especially weight bearing exercise that strengthens the bones such as walking regularly.

Last but not least is eating too restricted diet.  As we get older our appetites decrease naturally, we tend to reduce our weight bearing exercise, do not spend time outside in the sun obtaining Vitamin D, and we listen to nutritional advice which tells us to drop full fat dairy, cheese and butter from our diets!!

Diagnosis of Osteoporosis.

I believe that every woman over 55 and men over 65 should have a bone density test to discover where their bone health actually is following the reduction of the two hormones involved. The doctor will also take into account your medical history – particularly if you have had a number of fractures in the past. You should also have a urine and blood test to rule out any other reasons for bone loss and the blood test will show the levels of both oestrogen and testosterone.

A reminder of the nutrients needed to build and maintain healthy bone if you missed the first post.

As I have already mentioned in a previous blog there are certain nutrients that are essential for bone health and I gave brief notes about them. Today I am going to go into one of the most important vitamins for bone health and that is vitamin D. Also, a vitamin that gets little press but that also plays an important role in our bone health and that is Vitamin K.

There is increasing concern that vitamin D (that incidentally thinks it is a hormone) is becoming deficient, particularly in children as we see a rise in the cases of rickets.

Once you have read the notes on this vital nutrient, you can identify if perhaps you are missing it in your diet or lifestyle, and if your family might be at risk.

Vitamin D

If ever there was a reason to get out and lie or walk in the sun for 40 minutes in the mornings, getting your daily recommended dose of Vitamin D is it. In fact, 3 hours in sunlight, spread over a week, in moderate climates, without using any sunblock is sufficient to boost your levels of what is known as the sunshine vitamin. However, you may need less, or more, depending on latitude, time of day and air pollution.

It is not advisable to lie out in the heat of summer in Spain, for example, for 3 hours without protection but you will still receive beneficial amounts through sunblock of under factor-8. Most of what we require on a daily basis is produced in the skin by the action of sunlight and many of us who suffer from depression through the dark winter months are actually missing around 75% of our required daily dose of 1000 IU.

There are a number of diseases that result from a deficiency of Vitamin D and over the years, since it was identified in cod liver oil, there has been increasing research into its role in the body.

In Victorian times children with rickets or bow-legs were a common sight. You rarely see this in developed countries today, although in Southern Asia there is still a problem. In adults the condition is called osteomalacia (soft bones) and it is estimated that millions of people who suffer from unexplained bone and muscle pain actually have this condition. There has been an increase in recent years in the incidence of rickets in the western world and some of this is down to the decrease in outside activity for our children.

More of them are kept inside for safety reasons, many no longer walk to school, go outside at playtime, have football or other team sports encouraged. They sit in front of the television or computer instead of playing in the street and when they do go in the sun they are plastered in factor 30 and above.

They also have too much fizzy pop in their diets and the chemicals in these are not bone friendly. We have gone away from the free school milk and there is too much sugar in our diets which is acidic and leeches mineral from the bones.

How is Vitamin D involved in our bones?

Our bones are living tissue that grows and regenerates throughout our lifetime. It is not static and old bone is removed and replaced with new bone continuously, a process that requires that the essential elements of bone to be available from our diet and from chemical reactions in the body.

There are four main components in bone that are needed to ensure it is strong and able to repair itself on a daily basis.

  • Minerals – Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorus.
  • Matrix – Collagen fibres (gristle)
  • Osteoclasts – Bone removing cells
  • Osteoblasts – Bone producing cells.

If you ever made papier-mâché sculptures at school you will have used a chicken-wire framework, first of all, to establish the shape that you wanted. Over this you would have laid your strips of wet paper and allowed them to harden. The bone making process is very similar.

A network of collagen fibres forms the base and they are then overlaid with minerals. The strength of the finished bone is dependent on the amount of mineralisation that takes place. Osteoclasts will remove old bone when needed and this results in a need to produce new collagen matrix to attract new minerals for the repair process.

Vitamin D is essential to ensure that sufficient calcium and phosphorus is attracted to the new matrix and that strong new bone is produced. It begins its work in the intestines where your food is processed and assists in the absorption of calcium. If you are deficient in Vitamin D the bone becomes calcium depleted (osteomalacia) increasing your risk of fractures.

Unfortunately, if you are deficient in this vitamin more bone is discarded than replaced leading to soft and malformed bones.

Rickets, for example, is the result of soft and insufficient bone material in the legs allowing them to bend and stunting their growth. In adults the disease is called osteomalacia and because the symptoms are usually related to unspecific muscle and bone pain it can remain undiagnosed for years. This leads to chronic pain and the truth is that therapeutic doses of vitamin D may be the only treatment necessary.

Food Sources and supplementation.

vit d 2

Apart from sunshine, vitamin D can be obtained from a small range of foods including egg yolk, fish oil and liver. A glass of milk contains only 100 IU of the vitamin. It can be tough from just food sources to reach 1000 IU per day of the vitamin so getting out into the daylight on a daily basis is important. Certainly, I have found that taking good quality fish oil capsules over the years has been of benefit to me. There are supplements that you can take and if this is recommended it is usually in the form of calcium and D3 together to aid absorption. There is a new D3 spray for children, but I do advise that you ask a qualified practitioner or your doctor before you use.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is of particular interest to women in relation to osteoporosis risk because one of the causes of heavy periods is a deficiency of this vitamin. And if this has been a regular occurrence during fertile years, this deficiency could lead to early thinning of the bones.

There are two forms of the vitamin that the body can utilise. The first is K1 (phylloquinone), which is from plant sources and the other is K2 (menaquinone) which is produced by bacteria in our own intestines. This is where many of us get into trouble because we are not eating sufficient raw and unprocessed foods for health and additionally many of us suffer from bacterial imbalances in the gut so do not produce sufficient from that source either.

The vitamin is fat-soluble and is stored in the liver. Studies indicate that approximately 50% of the stores come from our diet and the balance from bacteria in the intestines. We need healthy bile production for efficient absorption of Vitamin K and our lymphatic system circulates it throughout the body.

Apart from helping reduce excessive bleeding during menstruation it is also used therapeutically for the prevention of internal bleeding and haemorrhages, including emergency treatment for overdoses of blood thinners such as Warfarin.

Blood clotting is a critical function in the body that solidifies blood to prevent us from bleeding to death from external or internal injuries. Vitamin K is essential for the production of a protein called prothrombin and other factors involved in the blood-clotting function and is therefore necessary to prevent haemorrhages.

Also, interestingly, Vitamin K activates other enzymes that decrease the clotting ability so it assumes the role of regulator within the blood stream. An example of this might occur if a clot forms within a blood vessel that could block the flow, and needs to be dispersed.

As the vitamin works within the body it changes from function to function according to the various interactions with enzymes and at one stage it acts as an antioxidant preventing oxidative damage to cells. There may also be a role for the vitamin in cancer prevention as it is believed it may stimulate rogue cells to self-destruct.

Bone Health and Vitamin K

The vitamin has also been the subject of a great deal of research in recent years as scientists discovered that it played a significant role in liver function, energy production in the nervous system, and in preventing bone loss as we age by assisting the absorption of calcium.

Vitamin K is needed to activate osteocalcin, the protein that anchors calcium into the bone, building and repairing the structure. A deficiency in the vitamin can therefore lead to brittle bones and osteoporosis.

Food sources for Vitamin K

vitamin K

It is very easy to obtain sufficient Vitamin K through diet and you will find that good sources are: Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli and cabbage, asparagus, Avocado, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Green beans, Green Tea, Carrots, Eggs, Liver, Potatoes and Tomatoes.

Although the vitamin is fairly resilient it is better to eat plant sources either raw or lightly steamed to obtain the maximum benefits. Freezing reduces the amount of the vitamin so you need to eat a little extra of frozen vegetables than fresh.

Final note is on exercise. Whilst it is preferable that your exercise is taken outside in the fresh air and sunshine, it is obvious that during the winter months this is not always a pleasurable option. Dancing, yoga, aerobics, jogging, walking and light weight training are all good forms of inside activity. Find the combination that works for you. There is also a plus to even 30 minutes exercise per day. It will keep your weight down and also stimulate your appetite. This will enable you to continue to consume sufficient foods containing the essential nutrients you need for bone health.


Please feel free to comment or share.. Thanks for dropping by Sally