Estrogen is a major female hormone that improves your body's ability to absorb calcium from your digestive tract. Estrogen also helps maintain calcium levels in your skeleton. Menopausal women and women who do not produce sufficient estrogen can suffer from decreased bone density because lack of estrogen impairs calcium absorption, resulting in resorption from the skeleton to meet the body's calcium needs.
How It Works
The role that estrogen plays in the regulation of calcium absorption is not clearly understood. Although the parts of the intestinal tract have estrogen receptors, whether the hormone directly or indirectly affects calcium absorption is not known. In the early years following menopause, you may experience levels of bone loss between 3 to 5 percent, says the National Institutes of Health. After the age of 65, bone loss typically fall below 1 percent.
You may suffer estrogen loss for reasons other than natural menopause. Amenorrhea, or a failure of menstruation to begin, a hysterectomy or loss of fat reserves due to excessive exercise or anorexia can also cause estrogen levels to fall. These conditions will also impair the absorption of calcium. If any of these conditions apply to you, increasing your intake of calcium-containing foods and taking calcium supplements may help slow bone loss, but may not completely replace the amount you lose.
Lower calcium levels in your body from poor absorption can eventually lead to osteoporosis and a higher risk of hip, spinal, pelvic, rib and other fractures due to low mineral density. To prevent these conditions, postmenopausal women often begin hormone replacement therapy consisting of estrogen and progesterone. HRT has long been associated with many side effects ranging from liver problems to an increased incidence of some cancers, however.
Dietary sources of calcium include dairy foods, vegetables such as kale, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, collards and calcium-fortified foods. Calcium has other important functions in your body besides maintaining your skeleton. Studies indicate that calcium helps lower blood pressure and may help prevent cancers of the colon and rectum, Excess intake of dietary calcium is rare, although it is possible for you to exceed recommended amounts by taking supplements. The NIH states that women from 19 to 50 years of age require a total intake of about 2,500 mg a day. Older women need about 2,000 mg.