You've probably heard of the link between calcium and osteoporosis. Your skeletal system holds the vast majority of calcium in your body. Calcium strengthens bones and promotes the functioning of nearly every body cell.

When dietary calcium is insufficient, the body is forced to get calcium in other ways. It may do this by reducing the amount of calcium that enters the urine, or by taking calcium from the bones. When calcium is removed from bones, the bones become more brittle and less dense. Over time this can lead to a condition called osteoporosis, literally "porous bones."

Osteoporosis occurs mainly in women, but men are also susceptible. With osteoporosis, bones are weaker and break more easily. Symptoms of osteoporosis include shortening height and a "hunch-backed" appearance, bone fractures (particularly in the wrists, spine, and hips), and lower back pain. Many doctors are now recommending that women take a daily calcium supplement in addition to eating calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, broccoli, almonds, tofu, and calcium-fortified juice. Women should get 1,000 mg to 1,500 mg of calcium daily, the higher amounts being for older women who aren't on estrogen therapy.

To prevent osteoporosis, ensure adequate calcium intake during childhood and the young adult years, the peak bone building times. Also take care to get sufficient vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. Most people get enough vitamin D just from being outdoors, but supplements are available for people who aren't outside much or who live in northern climates.

Marlene Veloso