They're touted as an insurance policy against osteoporosis, but which offers the best payoff?
We almost learn it at our mother's knee: calcium is good for our bones and teeth, and we must drink lots of milk to give us enough calcium to grow up to be strong, healthy adults. For years, this health message has been an article of faith. However, recent evidence is beginning to challenge the value of milk - certainly in later life (see box, p 2).
Calcium is the most common mineral in the human body - 99 per cent of it is in the bones and teeth, where it plays a structural role. The remaining 1 per cent is in body tissues and fluids, where it is essential for cell metabolism, blood-clotting, muscle contraction and nerve-impulse transmission.
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