Twelve years ago, actor Gwyneth Paltrow (then 38), told the world that shed been diagnosed with osteopenia, thanks to very low bone density. Closer home, actor Bipasha Basu was told by doctors in 2005 that she had the knees of a 65-year-old thanks to the onset of osteoarthritis. She was still in her 20s.Unless youve been living under a rock, youre definitely aware that osteoporosis or bone density degeneration is on the rise in India across women of all ages. This disease affects a whopping 80 per cent women across the country, and the leading factors are two very simple deficiencies calcium and vitamin D. According to an SRL survey released in December 2021, women were tested in major metros, and 72 per cent were found to be deficient in vitamin D while 21 per cent were deficient in calcium. Despite access to calcium-rich milk products and plant foods, how is a country of so many women still calcium-deficient? Lets dismiss some calcium myths, and find out how to get this nutrient right!HOW MUCH CALCIUM?Nutritionist and speaker Nikhil Chaudhary, author of The Burning Solution says, The daily Calcium requirement for women is about 1000mg. This goes up slightly during times of pregnancy, puberty and especially menopause to a maximum of about 1300mg per day. The absorption of calcium is lower in woman after they reach menopause due to low estrogen, which also causes loss of calcium in urine and reduced calcium resorption. On average, women lose approximately 1 per cent of their bone mineral density (BMD) per year after menopause. This is one major reason why older woman have pain in the bone and related problems. Higher calcium and vitamin D requirements are well-known in people suffering from bone problems like osteoporosis and hip fractures.WHY IS CALCIUM NEEDED?About 99 per cent of the bodys calcium is stored in bones, and the remaining 1 per cent is found in blood, muscle, and other tissues, explains Chaudhary. We often relate calcium deficiency or hypocalcemia to weakening of bones and osteoporosis. But it is important to understand that calcium also plays an important role in blood clotting, muscle contraction, eye lens-fiber cell processes, teeth, heart rhythms and nerve functions. Any deficiency or dysregulation of calcium in the body will affect almost every organ system and can cause symptoms like cataract and eye problems, hair loss, brittle nails, tingling sensation around mouth, hands and feet, stomach pain, diarrhoea, muscle cramps, decreased or slow heartbeat, increased urination, blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, regulation of reproductive hormones and bone weakness.CAN CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTS HELP?Meenal Suri, Consulting Nutritionist and Lifestyle Coach at Chicnutrix says, Calcium supplements can help overcome deficiencies or needed in conditions where you are at a borderline. The recommended dosage depends on many factors, including the bioavailability of calcium from the particular food, any deficiency, or any health conditions. It is different for different individuals, and best to consult your health expert or nutritionist to help you know the amount desired for your body and also the correct way to include supplements. Any supplement taken for a long duration without proper knowledge can cause toxicity. She adds, Pregnancy imposes the increased need for calcium to meet the needs of the growing foetus and during lactation to compensate for the calcium secreted in breast milk. A healthy breastfed baby of three months receives a large amount of calcium from the mothers milk. Here is when the mother will need much more calcium. If not provided by the diet, she might need additional supplements. Even so, after the breastfeeding phase, women should continue a calcium-rich diet to avoid dental and hair issues.ARE NATURAL FOODS BETTER?Keeping the sources of calcium natural ensures that we dont mess up with calcium metabolism, believes Chaudhary, a firm advocate of following a natural calcium-rich diet without any supplements. It has been found that increasing consumption of calcium from natural sources helps to reduce blood pressure in hypertensive people. Without vitamin D, calcium is not used by the body properly, thus we must regularly expose ourselves to sunlight. Both these things together ensure that our calcium metabolism is perfect. In the absence of vitamin D, the body absorbs no more than 10 per cent to 15 per cent of dietary calcium. Adequate vitamin D increases the intestinal calcium absorption to 30 per cent to 40 per cent of calcium consumed.In India most people consider milk and milk products to be the only rich source of calcium. It is true that milk products have abundant calcium, but they are not the only sources. Large-scale studies have also indicated that milk and milk product consumption is actually linked to weaker bones, as milk makes the blood acidic and also distorts the calcium metabolism, says Chaudhary, adding, Though milk is a rich source of calcium, personally I do not recommend it as a preferred source. Some of the preferred sources of calcium that I vouch for are whole grains like bran rice, wheat, quinoa; lentils, legumes and pulses like green moong dhal, red chana, kidney beans, groundnuts, chickpeas, soyabeans, black urad dhal; nuts and seeds like almonds, sesame seeds, vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, green leafy vegetables like agathi, moringa, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, capsicum; dry fruits like figs, dates and raisins. Calcium is so important that almost every natural food is a source of calcium. He goes onto add that natural sources of water like ponds, lakes, rivers, wells and springs provide hard water, which are often rich sources of minerals like calcium, but the world has resorted to consuming RO filtered water that is devoid of these minerals.IS TOO MUCH CALCIUM A THING?What happens when we eat too much calcium? Suri cautions of the impact of an overdose. It causes toxicity and can impair kidney functions by causing stones, sometimes nausea and vomiting. It also causes irregular heartbeats and impaired mental health. Calcium deposits in organs can lead to their dysfunction like calcification of kidneys, calcification in breasts, hypertension caused by calcification of arteries, stroke due to calcification in the brain and more.