a1 Nutritional Sciences, Department of Food Science, Food Technology & Nutrition, and Department of Medicine, University College, Cork, Ireland
Calcium accounts for 1–2 % of adult human body weight. Over 99 % of total body Ca is found in the teeth and bones. Therefore, in addition to the obvious structural role of the skeleton, it also serves as a reservoir for Ca. Dietary Ca intake has an important impact on bone metabolism and bone health. Chronic Ca deficiency resulting from inadequate intake or poor intestinal absorption is one of several important causes of reduced bone mass and osteoporosis. It is vital, therefore, that adequate dietary Ca is consumed at all stages of life — in early life so that the genetically programmed peak bone mass can be reached and in later adulthood so that the skeletal mass can be maintained and age-related bone loss minimised. Unfortunately, there is wide variation in the estimates of daily Ca requirements made by different expert authorities. Furthermore, there is evidence that many individuals are not consuming these recommended levels. The consequence of this for bone health will be discussed in the present review. Besides the amount of Ca in the diet, the absorption of dietary Ca in foods is also a critical factor in determining the availability of Ca for bone development and maintenance. Thus, there is a need to identify food components and/or functional food ingredients that may positively influence Ca absorption in order to ensure that Ca bioavailability from foods can be optimised. This approach may be of particular value in individuals who fail to achieve the dietary recommended level of Ca.