When you think of calcium, what is the first thing that comes to mind? A glass of milk? A slice of cheese?
Well, those are all good things to remember calcium by, but did you know that calcium is the most prevalent mineral in our body? That calcium also makes up to 2% of our total weight? Our bones contain most of the calcium that is in our bodies, while the rest is in our teeth, the body’s soft tissue, blood plasma, and extracellular fluid.
Calcium’s number one priority in our body is to provide strength and structure to our skeleton. Calcium phosphates called hydroxyapatite crystals make up our skeletal bone structure.
The interaction of calcium ions with the ions that are already present in our bodily fluids is called ion exchange. Ion exchange is essential to maintaining the balance of calcium in the blood and bone. Muscle contraction, nerve impulse signaling, blood coagulation, and hormone signaling are all regulated by calcium in the blood.
The Health Benefits Of Calcium
As you can imagine there are a ton of benefits to maintaining proper calcium in your diet. Here are the major benefits of calcium along with a few unknowns.
Calcium helps keep bones healthy and in shape. Having plenty of calcium in your diet especially early in life can help prevent osteoporosis and arthritis, which could negatively affect your later years.
If there is any deficiency of calcium in your diet, your body will release a hormone called parathyroid. When parathyroid is released, it stimulates your bones to release additional parathyroid into your bloodstream maintaining a balance. Now for the bad news. When parathyroid is released into the body, it stimulates the production of fat. This fat does not break down and is the reason for the weight gain.
Cardiac Muscles/ Regulating Blood Pressure
Proper amounts of calcium will help cardiac muscles contract and relax properly and help sustain healthy blood pressure. Maintaining the right calcium levels prevents the release of a hormone called calcitriol. Calcitriol causes the smooth muscles of the arteries to contract which in turn causes blood pressure to rise.
Controls Alkaline pH Levels
Excess sugars, junk food, and other preserved foods help to form acid in the body which can lead to other conditions like cancer, hypertension, and kidney stones. Calcium helps combat the buildup of acid to maintain a healthy pH level.
Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms
Another of the many benefits of calcium is that it reduces dizziness, hypertension, mood swings, and other symptoms that come with premenstrual syndrome.
Prevents Kidney Stones?
Calcium was once thought to be the leading cause of kidney stones. Now the jury is out.
Kidney stones are made up of crystallized deposits of calcium and other minerals that build up in the urinary tract, not just calcium. Oxalate stones are the most common form of kidney stones. These stones are often associated with a diet high in the oxalate consumption of leafy vegetables and low fluid consumption.
There are also some studies that state that calcium can help prevent colon cancer. How does it do that? Calcium that is not absorbed by the body remains in your intestines. This unabsorbed calcium binds with cancer-causing material and is subsequently eliminated from the body.
Deficiency or Inadequacy
When there is a lack of calcium in one’s diet, the diagnosis is a lot different today than it was years ago. Today, people should get an adequate amount of calcium just by eating a variety of foods.
Calcium inadequacy is a more common diagnosis. Calcium inadequacy occurs when the intake of calcium is lower than the recommended daily value.
Another thing to remember is that Vitamin D and calcium go hand in hand. So, if you are deficient in Vitamin D, your body can’t effectively absorb calcium.
Symptoms of calcium inadequacy are:
- Muscle cramps and numbness
- Problems with teeth and gums
- High risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures
Who is at Risk?
There are four groups of people that are at risk of calcium inadequacy:
- Vegans – Calcium is most prevalent in dairy. If you avoid these products than you may not be getting enough of the mineral.
- Lactose Intolerant – Same reason as above.
- Postmenopausal women – Their bodies produce less estrogen which causes a decrease in calcium absorption and an increase in bone resorption, leading to osteoporosis.
- Women with amenorrhea – The lack of a period reduces the circulation of estrogen which can affect calcium balance.
Recommended Daily Allowance
To get the full benefits of calcium, you need to make sure you get adequate calcium through your diet and supplements. The daily recommended intake of calcium increases with age. Women especially need to up their value starting at a younger age.
|Men||Daily RDA Daily||Upper Limit|
|19-50||1000 mg||2500 mg|
|51-70||1000 mg||2000 mg|
|71 and older||1200 mg||2000 mg|
|Women||Daily RDA Daily||Upper Limit|
|19-50||1000 mg||2500 mg|
|51 and older||1200 mg||2000 mg|
Sources of Calcium
Here is a list of common calcium sources. Eat as part of an overall healthy diet to get the full benefits of calcium.
- Milk, cheese and other dairy products
- Green leafy vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and okra
- Bread and anything that has fortified flour
- Sardines and fish where you can eat the bones
There are quite a few supplements that are available as well for those that may not get an adequate amount of calcium in their daily diets. Get with your doctor and make sure you find the right one that will fit your dietary needs.
The Oxalates Dilemma
When considering calcium sources, be cautious of foods that are high in oxalates (oxalic acid). These foods will hinder the way your body absorbs calcium.
What does that mean? It means foods like spinach, rhubarb, beets and certain beans, which are high in calcium, don’t deliver the goods. Why? Because they also contain oxalates.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should avoid these foods. They are all excellent nutritional sources. Just know that the oxalate content in these foods will limit the body’s ability to absorb their calcium.
Excessive Levels of Calcium
While we are usually concerned more about getting enough calcium, there is the opposite end of the spectrum to consider. Everything has its limits, including taking too much calcium. Having excess levels of calcium in the body can lead to several health issues.
High levels of calcium in the body can lead to hypercalcemia. Hypercalcemia can hamper some bodily functions like heart rate and brain functions. Other symptoms with excess levels of calcium are constipation, bloating, excessive thirst and frequent urination.
It is important to make sure that our diet supplies our bodies with the right nutrients and minerals that we need to stay healthy and live longer. Muscles and bones break down as we age. Because of this, calcium needs to be at the top of the list when it comes to making sure your body gets what it needs.
So, don’t be shy. Drink that glass of milk and add that piece of cheese to your sandwich. Your body will thank you..