The role of Calcium in maintaining positive bone health has been well established. This is through a combination of robust scientific research, alongside strong public health messages that have helped solidify this relationship.
While a glass of milk a day may not solve all our issues alone, the underlying message rings true. Calcium is one of the body’s key electrolytes, which is integral to the functioning of the human body and plays a unique role in the maintenance of bone health.
Along with the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth, Calcium is required to maintain normal heart rhythm, muscle contractions, nervous system transmission and is necessary for blood to clot adequately.
Your body precisely controls the level of Calcium in the cells and blood to ensure a steady level of calcium. If you do not consume enough calcium, it is then mobilised out of the bones – which weakens them and can lead to osteoporosis.
To ensure adequate levels of Calcium are present in the blood without drawing from the bones, individuals must consume 1000-1500mg daily. This can pose challenges for those that are lactose intolerant, have specific dietary requirements and/or underlying conditions that serve as an obstacle to Calcium absorption, meaning certain individuals have to be more vigilant when it comes to their intake.
Data also indicates that certain lifestyle factors such as high levels of protein and sodium (salt) can also lead to increased Calcium excretion through the kidneys. These elements begin to paint a picture of the many obstacles to achieving and maintaining optimal bone health status through diet alone.
You may be thinking, Isn’t osteoporosis a condition of the elderly?
Not exactly. Frequent pressure and strain on the skeletal system through rigorous exercise and high impact sports leave individuals already at an increased risk of injury. Coupled with deficiencies in Calcium, the likelihood of injury is significantly exacerbated meaning less time on the field doing what you love. Deficiencies are often nutritional (due to poor intake of dairy) as well as genetic/physiological (such as hyperthyroidism), meaning they often do not resolve on their own. Data also indicates that bones are more likely to be reinjured after an initial injury (often due to Calcium deficiency), reinforcing the importance of adequate levels of Calcium as a preventative and supportive addition to all stages of your training regimen.
However, as with most things, to stop at a surface level analysis would serve as a disservice to the complexity of the interactions taking place within the body. While Calcium supplementation is an effective standalone tool to combat deficiencies and improve/maintain bone density, coupling this supplementation regimen with Vitamin D as well as Vitamin K has been shown to improve bone protective benefits.
Vitamin D is a hormone, although most commonly known as a fat-soluble vitamin. Deficiencies in Vitamin D have been linked to increased vulnerability towards muscle and bone related conditions, such as increasing one’s risk of osteopenia, precipitating and exacerbating osteoporosis, and increasing muscle weakness – which worsens the risk of falls and fractures. This is because Vitamin D plays a synergistic role in supporting the absorption of Calcium. Similarly, vitamin K – also a fat-soluble Vitamin – is intricately involved in a positive feedback loop with vitamin D, whereby Vitamin D promotes the production of Vitamin K dependent proteins.
The synergistic relationship between vitamin D and K has been reproduced in multiple studies which analyse the efficacy of vitamin K as a treatment for preventing bone loss. In one particular study, vitamin K was administered to prevent osteoporosis in rats, but bone loss was only prevented in rats fed a diet also containing vitamin D. These findings suggest that combined treatment with vitamins D and K was more effective than vitamin K alone in preventing bone loss. Similarly, in other studies aimed to evaluate the role of Calcium alone, and Calcium administered alongside Vitamin K supplementation, the combined approach reduced Calcium loss through urine and stimulated the reuptake of Calcium.
Understanding the power of this triumvirate is of particular utility to athletes. While supplementation is beneficial to the general population due to its bone protective benefits, it’s especially important for athletes who are exposed to physiologic stressors and circumstances above and beyond those of sedentary individuals. Regular, intense physical training may increase an athlete’s need for supplementation due to the loss of key vitamins and minerals through sweat, increased weight bearing load on bones, restrictive eating habits and/or lack of sunlight (for indoor sports).
While osteoporosis was previously thought to be an ‘older’ person’s condition, deficiencies in Calcium and vitamin D are more ubiquitous due to a plethora of risk factors such as ethnicity, age, dietary sensitivities/preferences, education, health status, sun exposure, work schedule, occupation, age, body weight and more.
A study of 214 NFL scouts (with a median age of 22) found that overall, 59% of the athletes had below-normal levels of vitamin D, defined as > 50nmol/L. Researchers also discovered that 56% of the players with low vitamin D experienced a recent lower extremity muscle strain or core muscle injury. Additionally, of the 14 study participants who missed at least one football game due to a muscle injury, 86% were found to have significantly low levels of vitamin D.
To ensure you and your bones are functioning at their best, ensure you are supplementing adequate levels of Calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin K with PILLAR’s Elite Calcium.