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Why Do Kids Need Calcium & What Is the Best Dose?
  /   Dr. John Snow

Why Do Kids Need Calcium & What Is the Best Dose?

Calcium is rightfully emphasized as one of the most important minerals in a child’s diet. Calcium is a key building block of the skeleton, and a child’s bones can continue to grow all the way up until age 25. If children don’t get enough calcium, they may face long-term consequences that can permanently hinder their health and growth potential throughout the rest of their lives.

Thankfully, most American children can get sufficient amounts of calcium through their diet. Some children could do with a little more, and it’s important to make sure they get it. Here’s what parents need to know about the importance of calcium for kids, introducing calcium-rich foods to their children, and when to contemplate supplementing calcium for kids.

What Is Calcium?

Calcium is a necessary mineral. The body contains and uses more calcium than any other mineral, as calcium is instrumental in its growth and maintenance. Tooth and bone material are hardened and fortified by calcium, which keeps them strong and resilient. Calcium can help bone to heal and restore itself.

Muscles and nerves need calcium to communicate and function properly. Calcium helps to facilitate and regulate muscular contractions, including the contraction of the heart as it beats. When nerves relay important instructions to muscles, they release calcium. The calcium tells the muscle to behave as expected.

The Importance of Calcium For Kids

Calcium is a critically important mineral for all people of all ages. Teens and adults need calcium to keep their bodies functioning as it's made to function and repair minor damage to bones.

Older adults and seniors need calcium to prevent degeneration of bone that may naturally occur with age. Children need calcium to grow.

Children are still building bone mass. As their bones grow taller and stronger, so do they. Without sufficient amounts of calcium, it’s possible that children will never reach their full growth potential or may experience complications relating to bone health later in life.

How Much Calcium Does My Child Need?

Children need more calcium than any other mineral, and their needs for a substantial amount of calcium begin at birth. Both breast milk and high-quality baby formula should naturally satisfy calcium requirements for babies who cannot yet consume regular food.

  • Up to 6 Months – 200 mg daily
  • Seven months to 1 year – 260 mg daily
  • One year to 3 years – 700 mg daily
  • Four years to 8 years – 1,000 mg daily
  • Nine years to 13 years -- 1,300 mg daily

What Happens When Kids Don’t Get Enough Calcium?

Calcium deficiency has very serious consequences that may not be reversible. It’s important to take your child’s calcium intake seriously to avoid potential illnesses that can cause pain and significantly disrupt how the body functions.

Osteomalacia

Osteomalacia is a condition that causes a dangerous softening of the bones. Calcium deficiency can contribute to osteomalacia, and vitamin D deficiency is an equally important factor. Osteomalacia is considered a defect in bone maturation and is primarily caused by a lack of proper nutrients in early childhood to adolescence.

Rickets

Rickets is a condition that causes weakening and softening of the bones. Calcium and Vitamin D work in tandem to strengthen bones and help them grow. Children with rickets may experience significant delays in natural growth. If left unchecked, rickets can cause permanent skeletal deformities.

Children with rickets will sometimes require major corrective surgeries to fix skeletal deformation. Bone strength can be replenished with extra calcium and vitamin D supplementation, although some effects of rickets may be long-term.

As we age, our body takes and uses calcium from our bones and replaces it with calcium from our diets. If your child’s bones aren’t properly fortified with calcium, bone remodeling can cause severe and potentially painful problems. Entering adulthood with strong and healthy bones can minimize the risk of premature bone loss. Continuing to consume adequate amounts of calcium throughout life can further prevent these conditions.

Calcium Needs to Be Used with Vitamin D

Calcium and vitamin D are of equal importance. Without vitamin D, calcium isn’t of much use to your child’s body. The body requires vitamin D for the absorption of calcium. Without vitamin D, calcium would simply pass through the body without fortifying bones or teeth.

Every person needs a minimum of 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D a day. People with bone disorders, calcium or vitamin D deficiencies, those at risk for osteoporosis, and people over the age of 70 may require additional vitamin D.

Vitamin D is mostly recognized as a fat-soluble vitamin, but it’s also a hormone the body produces when exposed to certain stimuli like sunlight. Vitamin D doesn’t naturally occur in very many foods, and prolonged sun exposure without sunblock can potentially cause skin cancer. This creates a rock and a hard place.

Many foods that contain calcium are fortified with vitamin D, as sources for vitamin D are extremely limited. It’s best not to assume that something contains vitamin D simply because it contains calcium. Peanut butter is a prime example. Although it contains a small amount of calcium, it’s unlikely to contain any vitamin D. When selecting foods for your children, be sure they contain both.

Foods Rich in Calcium and Vitamin D

No foods contain both calcium and vitamin D naturally. The only exception is human breast milk, which contains meager amounts of vitamin D. Pediatricians often recommend vitamin D supplementation for breastfed babies. The most efficient way to give your child vitamin D and calcium simultaneously is to choose a food product that has been enhanced with additional vitamins.

Dairy Products

Most cow’s milk in the United States is fortified with vitamin D. Although there is no official mandate requiring this fortification, responsible dairy producers take the extra step to assure the body can use the calcium it derives from milk.

As a result of this fortification process, most dairy products made with fortified cow’s milk will also contain calcium and vitamin D. Although this is usually the case, you should always read the nutrition facts just to be sure.

Soy Milk

Lactose intolerant children, children with dairy allergies, and children in vegan households cannot consume dairy products. Soy milk is a decent approximation to cow’s milk. It contains protein and many of the same vitamins and minerals.

A single serving of America’s most popular variety of unsweetened, unflavored soy milk contains 45% of the daily recommended value of calcium and 30% of the daily recommended value of vitamin D. It should be relatively easy to give children a serving of soy milk twice a day, helping them achieve most of their goals with just two cups.

Fortified Foods

Some juices, cereals, and oatmeal products are fortified with both calcium and vitamin D. These are foods that most children may like. As long as you're choosing varieties without substantial amounts of added sugar, these fortified foods can easily play a role in your child’s healthy and balanced diet.

When To Use Supplements With Calcium and Vitamin for Kids

Providing your child with the proper calcium and vitamin D balance can be difficult. It can be even more difficult when your child is a picky eater, has allergies to dairy or soy, or adheres to a plant-based diet. Many pediatricians recommend vitamin D supplementation, and calcium supplementation may also be necessary.

Speak to your child’s pediatrician. Ask if your child is getting enough calcium and vitamin D, and explain a typical day of your child’s diet to the pediatrician. If tests are necessary, the pediatrician will conduct them.

Some children may require only vitamin D supplementation if they get sufficient calcium from the rest of their diet. If supplementation is suitable, choose a supplement designed for children.

Add Hiya To Your Child’s Routine

Hiya’s daily children’s chewable multivitamins contain over 100% of the daily recommended value of vitamin D for children, as well as a modest amount of calcium. Our multivitamins are free from sugar and gummy junk. They’re also vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free. They’re a safe addition to any picky eater’s diet, and they provide enough vitamin D to promote calcium absorption.

Sources:

Calcium - Consumer | Office of Dietary Supplements | National Institutes of Health

Calcium regulation of muscle contraction | National Institutes of Health

Osteomalacia - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Rickets - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Osteoporosis: Symptoms, Causes, Tests & Treatment | Cleveland Clinic

Vitamin D and Calcium | Hormone Health Network

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