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Calcium is a very important mineral that is necessary in sustaining life. This mineral plays vital roles in many parts of the body, including the skeletal system, the muscular system, and the brain. In the skeletal system, calcium keeps the bones strong and rigid, in the muscular system, it helps muscles contract, and in the brain, calcium assists nerves in sending messages (“Calcium and Vitamin D”). As a result of the body’s reliance on calcium, if there were to be a shortage of calcium, many dangerous diseases and illnesses could develop. However, which the right amount of exercise and a balanced diet full of calcium those diseases can be avoided.
Since our body cannot produce calcium, we must eat food that contains calcium, and then store it in our body to use when it is needed (“Calcium and Vitamin D”). In order for our bodies to access the stored calcium, it must go through a feedback loop. When there are low levels of calcium in the blood, the parathyroid glands—which are located on the back of the thyroid gland—are stimulated. When stimulated, the glands secrete a hormone called parathyroid hormone, or PTH. This hormone affects three organs that help increase calcium levels in the blood. First, the parathyroid hormone stimulates osteoclasts in bones. The osteoclasts start to break down bone, which releases calcium from the bone into the blood. Next, since the kidney usually releases calcium, the hormone causes the kidney to increase calcium uptake to store it for later use. The hormone also stimulates the kidneys to secrete an active form of vitamin D. This activated vitamin causes the intestines to take in as much calcium as possible. Once the level of calcium returns to normal in the blood, homeostasis will be finished. All of those steps complete their modified function and return to working as they normally do (Patton 201).
If for some reason calcium levels in the blood decrease whether is it because one is not taking in enough calcium or the feedback loop is not working, very serious health issues could result. There are no short-term symptoms, but if not corrected, the low levels of calcium in one’s blood can create long-term consequences and illnesses. One such illness is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a very common bone disease that affects about 40 million Americans (“What is Osteoporosis?). It is a disease that causes bones to become very fragile and therefore more likely to fracture or break. Osteoporosis is caused when bone is being broken down by osteoclasts, but osteoblasts are not forming enough new bone to make up for the lost bone. This causes bone to become very brittle and delicate, becoming more prone to breaks. There are many circumstances that can cause this to happen, the most common being genetics. Therefore, if someone has relatives with osteoporosis, they will inherit the risk of getting this disease. Osteoporosis is also caused if a person does not have enough calcium and vitamin D in their diet, which makes it harder for bones to form as shown in the feedback loop. Various other conditions that increase the risk for osteoporosis are smoking, excessive drinking, and low body weight. Unfortunately, there are no symptoms during the early stages of osteoporosis, so it is hard to detect until the illness becomes more serious. Unless there is an obvious fracture that needs treatment, osteoporosis is rarely detected until its later stages. However, if not detected, the symptoms include compression fractures. Compression fractures are broken vertebrae that can occur without an injury. These fractures cause a sharp, sometimes disabling, pain in the middle or lower spine. Other problems that arise from compression fractures as a result of osteoporosis are loss of height and a stooped posture or kyphosis (also known as a dowager’s hump). The loss of height occurs over time and is can be as much as six inches lost (“Osteoporosis”).
In order to diagnosis osteoporosis a doctor may have the person take a bone mineral density test. This test evaluates how much calcium is in a person’s bone. Therefore, it can detect if someone has osteoporosis or is at risk for it. The most common way to perform a bone mineral density test is to use a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan. A DEXA scan very similar to a chest x-ray, but with a lower dose x-rays. There are two types of DEXA scans—central DEXA and peripheral DEXA. The main difference between the two scans is the areas that the scan. The central DEXA scans the bone density in the lower spine and hip, while the peripheral DEXA scans wrists, fingers, legs, or heels. While DEXA scans are the most accurate method in determining whether someone has osteoporosis, a simple spine or hip x-rays. These x-rays are good at showing fractures in the spinal bones, but they are not as accurate in diagnosing osteoporosis. Another way to determine whether or not someone has osteoporosis is through a blood or urine test. These tests are best at identifying the disease if the doctor believes that it is not caused by bone loss due to old age, but as a result of a medical condition. Treatment for osteoporosis can be as simple as exercising, changing one’s diet, taking vitamin D (helps the body absorb calcium) and calcium supplements, quitting smoking, and reducing the amount of alcohol they take in. Exercise is important because it helps keep bones strong, which decreases a person’s chance of getting osteoporosis and fractures. Some exercises that are effective are walking, jogging, dancing, tai chi, yoga, and other similar activities. Other exercises such as using weight machines and rowing machines also help reduce a person’s chance in getting fractures. However, since osteoporosis makes bones fragile, it is not recommended to partake in any exercises that can result in falling or any strong impacts. If the disease is more severe and lifestyle changes will not help, medicine can also be taken to assist in healing. Some of the medicines include bisphosphonates (treats and prevents bone loss), parathyroid hormone (stimulates feedback loop), calcitonin (slows rate of bone loss), raloxifene (treats and prevents osteoporosis), denosumab (slows weakening of bone), and estrogen and hormone replacement therapy (prevents osteoporosis). Following all of these guidelines allows the body to start taking in calcium and building up bone just as fast as it is losing it, therefore making the bones strong and no longer prone to fractures and other painful injuries (Osteoporosis).
A case study that took place about fifteen years ago focused on postpartum osteoporosis. This specific case study concentrated more specifically on a proximal tibial stress fracture and how it related to postpartum osteoporosis. About six months after giving birth, a 33-year-old woman started feeling acute knee pain. After getting an MRI done and a few other tests it was determined that she had a proximal tibia plateau insufficiency fracture. The woman had no previous injuries or recent traumas to explain the fracture and pain. Therefore the doctors had to conduct a bone mineral density test to try and find an explanation for the injury. The doctors were able to determine that the fracture was due to mild postpartum osteoporosis after getting the bone density test and diagnosing her less than normal bone mineral density. There were no complications during the pregnancy or during birth and the patient was normocalcemic, which means she has higher than normal levels of parathyroid hormone in her blood but normal blood levels of calcium. Therefore the doctors determined that the cause of the postpartum osteoporosis was lactation and postpartum hormonal changes (Clemetson).
Many developing countries are facing the horrible issue of malnutrition. A person can get malnutrition if there are not enough vitamins and minerals in their diets that they need to survive. This can lead to some serious issues, especially for children later in their life. If a person is undernourished they are more susceptible to dying from common infections, along with just overall poor health. This can limit a person’s ability to learn, work, or do much of anything in their lives. One developing country that has been experiencing this epidemic is Guatemala. Guatemala actually has a lot of agriculture and successful farms. The country has the perfect climate and geography to support many lush valleys filled with fruits and vegetables. There is enough land on farms to care for animals including cows, pigs, and chickens. Many families do have access to all different types of foods and animals that can provide these essential vitamins. However, since most of these families are extremely poor, they cannot afford to keep much of what they grow. There is so much nutritious food being grown, but most of it is loaded into trucks and exported to larger markets in areas like the United States and Europe. The families do not make enough money to buy food to help prevent malnutrition and calcium deprivation. They mostly survive off of corn, beans, and other cheaper foods that do not have the vital amount of vitamins and minerals. This issue would be very hard to fix, considering that it is the countrywide poverty that is the main cause, but small steps can be taken to help families to become healthier. Somehow these families need to be able to either keep more of the food that they grow instead of selling it, or get more money when they sell it. Either way they need to make sure that they have food that is rich in minerals, such as calcium, and vitamins, such as vitamin D. Any type of dairy product is rich in calcium. Food such as milk, yogurt, and cheese must become a bigger part of people’s diets. This should be easy considering most families have the land and means for keeping a few cows on their land. Vegetables, especially leafy greens, are also rich sources of calcium. So growing lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and broccoli, among others, would help in providing people with their needed daily intake of calcium. Dairy products are also a very good source of vitamin D, which is another essential vitamin. Vitamin D can also be found in eggs, pork, and mushrooms, all of which can easily be found on a Guatemalan farm. If for some reason, people do not have access to any of these resources, vitamin and mineral supplements should be made easily accessible and cheap, as an alternative (“Widespread childhood malnutrition”).
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