Calcium is needed for strong and healthy bones but is junior getting enough? Find out how much calcium your child needs and just how important it really is.
WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES
Most of us are likely to remember our mothers telling us to finish our milk when we were young. At the time, it may have seemed like a chore but be glad if you did. When we think about a child’s health, bone health doesn’t always come to mind immediately – but it should.
How Calcium Works
Your bones function as a kind of bank of sorts where deposits and withdrawals are made in calcium. In the human body, besides keeping your bones strong, calcium is needed to facilitate everything from cell function, muscle contraction (including heart muscle function), dilating and constricting your blood vessels, blood clotting, transmitting nerve impulses, to secreting hormones.
When blood calcium levels get low, your body will “withdraw funds” from your bones to keep the body functioning. If you withdraw more than you deposit consistently, your bones eventually run a deficit which leads to osteoporosis or brittle bones which lead to fractures. Your body prioritises the need to keep your muscles contracting and your nerves transmitting over keeping your bones from becoming brittle.
The most important thing to know is that there is a critical age
for storing calcium up for old age, and that's during childhood.
If you want your child’s bones to continue to hold through old age,
you need to make sure she is depositing richly during the critical period.
Calcium in Children
In children, adequate calcium is of prime importance because their bones are still growing. According to Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre, “Calcium is important for building strong bones and for the proper functioning of muscles and nerves. Bones help to support the structure of their body, giving them their form and strength. Children need to build a strong foundation, achieving maximal peak bone mass during their growing years because the bone calcium begins to decrease in adulthood and progressive loss of bone occurs as we age.”
Chia also adds that a lack of calcium in children
causes them to be at risk of developing rickets and fractures.
“Rickets is a disease where the child’s bone is softened which can result in bowing of the legs and poor growth,” explains Dr Michelle Tan, associate consultant at the Division of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the National University Hospital. “Weak bones are also at increased risk of fractures during accidental falls,” she says. “If calcium deficiency continues to severe stage, numbness and tingling in fingers, convulsion and abnormal heart rhythms might be experienced,” adds Chia.