Improved diets and lifestyles needed to help prevent certain chronic disorders
Scientists from around the world emphasized the need for foods rich in calcium and vitamin D as the best way to assure adequate intakes and help prevent such disorders as poor bone formation and growth at a major congress held in Rome earlier this month.
The First World Congress on Calcium and Vitamin D in Human Life, organized by FAO, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other institutions working on nutrition, discussed ways to improve these nutrient intakes among all population groups and to promote proper growth during infancy, childhood and adolescence.
Inadequate dietary calcium is associated with a number of common chronic medical disorders worldwide, such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease -- hypertension, stroke and ischemic heart disease -- diabetes and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, obesity and colon cancer.
Inadequate intake of vitamin D is associated with bone abnormalities, such as rickets, and with a decrease in the body's ability to absorb calcium.Osteoporosis, in particular, a deterioration of the skeleton resulting in fragile bones and increased fractures associated with the ageing process, is a major public health problem and is among the most important causes of long-term disability.
Overall diet and lifestyle
While further research is needed to better understand these relationships, it is clear that eating a variety of foods and maintaining a balanced diet and regular physical exercise are fundamental to controlling some of the diseases associated with low levels of calcium intake. Most of the body's requirement for vitamin D, essential throughout life for maintaining calcium and bone metabolism, can be formed in the human body when there is regular exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is also available from animal products such as fish and fish liver oils, eggs and meat, and vitamin D fortified foods such as milk. For forming and maintaining proper bone health, sufficient levels of calcium, vitamin D and physical exercise must be achieved.
Pre-eclampsia, a disorder of high blood pressure and kidney failure that can occur during pregnancy, increases the risk of pre-term births, low birth-weight babies and caesarean sections and is potentially fatal. Mothers' calcium intake during pregnancy may also be related to future blood pressure levels in their offspring.
In pregnancy, calcium requirements increase; the risk of hypertensive disorders during pregnancy can be lowered by controlling calcium intake. The interaction between calcium and sodium is important; as calcium increases sodium excretion, reducing sodium intake may be just as effective as increasing calcium intake.
Three areas for follow-up have been clearly identified: further research, especially in understanding the interactions of various important nutrients and the resulting health consequences; nutrition education for the public to prevent disorders associated with inadequate levels of calcium and vitamin D; and production and promotion of foods rich in calcium and vitamin D.
FAO and WHO will hold a joint expert consultation in 1997 to further explore the issues discussed at the congress and to formulate recommendations.
The First World Congress on Calcium and Vitamin D in Human Life was organized by FAO, WHO, the Italian National Institute of Nutrition (INN), the Italian National Research Council (CNR) and the Italian National Federation for Osteoporosis Centers (FNCO).
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