Calcium is a very important nutrient needed by the body, especially the bones. It is the most abundant mineral in the body and it is needed for optimum health. It is the second most important mineral we need in the body, it is only next to magnesium.
2% of the total body weight of an adult is from the calcium present in the body. It is found abundantly in the bones and teeth while present in trace amounts in other parts of the body like the circulatory system where it prevents hemorrhages which can be life-threatening.
Every human needs calcium from birth till when they die. It has a lot of important functions in the body, including reducing the risks of obesity and preventing colon cancer.
Adequate intake of calcium through meals ensures that your bones are healthy throughout life. The best way to get calcium is through your diet.
Your body can’t make calcium, so you must get it from the foods you eat. This makes it an essential mineral and the amount of calcium you need on a daily basis depends on your age and sex.
Health Benefits of Calcium
The body needs calcium to form and maintain strong bones, this mineral ensures that your bones are healthy all through your life. Your heart, nerves, and muscles also require calcium for optimum function.
Calcium promotes healthy communication between your brain and other parts of your body, it helps in controlling the levels of potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium in the blood. Specific functions of calcium in the body are as follows:
Optimum Bone Health
Calcium help builds strong bones and maintains them. 99% of calcium found in your body is present in your bones and teeth, this essential mineral sees to the proper growth, development, and maintenance of your bones and teeth.
Calcium continues to strengthen your bones until you reach the age of 20 to 25 years old, at this age-range, the density of the bone is the highest.
The bone density declines after this age but the calcium you ingest from foods will help maintain this bone density and prevent bone problems. It also slows down the natural process of bone aging.
Teenagers and young adults who are deficient in calcium, have a higher risk of developing arthritis and osteoporosis or brittle bone diseases later in life. This happens because calcium is drawn from the bones to serve other needs in the body.
Arthritis and osteoporosis are extremely painful conditions and they can restrict your ability to move. Calcium also help to reduce the intensity of back pain and it keeps your bones in proper shape.
Calcium keep not only your bones strong but your teeth also, it keeps your jaw bones sturdy and strong throughout life, thereby protecting your teeth. Calcium ensures your teeth are tight fitting and this prevents bacteria from growing in between your teeth.
Regular intake of calcium-rich diet prevents teeth and gum problems. Calcium-rich foods should be given to children most especially so that they can have strong teeth and bones.
Reduces the Risks of Type II Diabetes
Calcium and vitamin D help reduce the risks of type ii diabetes by 33% in women.
Protects the Muscles of the Heart
Calcium protects your cardiac muscles and it helps them to contract and relax properly. It also helps to maintain proper pressure in your blood vessels (arteries) and nervous system.
When the level of calcium in your body drops below normal, your body releases a hormone called calcitriol, this hormone contracts the smooth muscles of your arteries and this will indirectly increase your blood pressure.
Your cardiac muscles depend on calcium for contraction. Less amount of calcium in your body will definitely affect the contraction of your heart and also your blood pressure.
Calcium and vitamin D help boost fertility, it increases the quantity of sperm and the energy of the sperm needed to burst into the egg and fertilize it. They also help restore normal menstruation in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Improve Metabolic Markers
Calcium supplements when taken with vitamin D helps to improve metabolic markers, including those of inflammation and blood pressure.
A recent study was carried out to see the effect of calcium and vitamin D on metabolic markers; over a hundred obese and vitamin D-deficient women with polycystic ovary syndrome were given a calcium supplement and vitamin D supplement or placebo.
Those women who were given the given the supplements had improvements in markers of triglycerides levels, insulin, and inflammation.
Movement of Nutrients in the Body
Calcium helps in the transportation and distribution of nutrients across all parts of your body and in your cell membranes.
Contraction of the Muscles
Calcium helps control contraction of the muscles. It also helps in regulating the beating and movement of the heart muscles. Calcium is released when a nerve stimulates a muscle.
Calcium aids the proteins in the muscles to carry out the process of muscle contraction. The muscles relax when calcium is pumped out of the muscles.
Prevents Colon Cancer
A report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that an adequate amount of calcium can prevent the overall risks of colon cancer. Calcium suppresses the growth of polyps which later on develop into cancer.
It also reduces the risks of adenomas and non-malignant tumors in the colon, these are precursors to colon cancer and calcium helps in reducing the risks of having them.
Aids Blood Clotting
Calcium plays a very important role in blood clotting, it is involved in a number of complex steps and lots of biochemical to ensure normal clotting (coagulation).
Minimizes Premenstrual Cramps and Depression
Calcium reduces the symptoms of premenstrual symptoms and cramp, it also tackles dizziness, high blood pressure, mood swings, and many other signs of premenstrual syndrome.
Low levels of calcium in a woman’s body induce the body to release hormones that triggers mood swings, irritability, depression, and other symptoms of PMS.
Co-factor for Many Enzymes
Many enzymes in the body depends on calcium as a co-factor, this means that when calcium is absent in the body, a lot of important enzymes won’t function effectively.
Prevents Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are crystalized deposits of minerals like calcium in the urinary tract. Oxalate stones are the most common forms of kidney stones. In the past, it was thought that a high intake of minerals cause kidney stones.
Now, recent studies have shown that a high consumption of dietary calcium will reduce the risks of kidney stones. Some factors that are risk factors for kidney stones are low consumption of water and high consumption of oxalate from green leafy vegetables.
Calcium causes your blood vessels to relax by impacting the smooth muscles confining your blood vessels.
Helps maintain the pH of the Body
The pH of the human body is alkaline, but there a lot of things that makes it acidic like high intake of junk foods, excessive consumption of refined sugar in various forms, and high intake of preserved or canned foods.
No disease can develop or thrive in an alkaline state but an acidic pH is a breeding ground for diseases, even cancer. Acidic pH even causes kidney stones and hypertension.
Calcium helps in maintaining healthy pH levels in your body, this, in turn, will improve your overall health, lifespan, and increase your lifespan.
Maintain Healthy Body Weight
Calcium helps in maintaining optimum weight in both sexes. When you are deficient in calcium or any mineral, your body releases the parathyroid hormone which stimulates your bones to release calcium into the bloodstream.
This helps to maintain the balance in one way but it thins your bones on the other hand, and this hormone also triggers the production of fat cells and prevents the fat cells from breaking down, this can make one obese.
So, taking in the right amount of calcium can help you maintain healthy body weight.
Controls Blood Pressure
Till date, there is still a slight confusion on this issue. While some studies suggests that a vegetarian diet with high amount of magnesium, fiber, potassium, and calcium helps regulate blood pressure others suggests that increased intake of these minerals can result in hypertension.
Recent studies have tried to explain the reasons for these different results and it was discovered that these studies were done to prove the effect of just a single mineral or nutrient and not from foods sources having that nutrient.
Recent studies done using this new approach have shown that diet made with a lot of fruits and vegetables and rich sources of calcium help reduce blood pressure. The combined effect of various foods is beneficial in regulating and bringing down high blood pressure.
Rich Natural Sources of Calcium
Calcium deficiency is on the rise now, probably due to low intake of calcium-rich foods and some underlying health problems. This deficiency is also reported more in women who are watching their weight and trying to get slim by all eating low-calorie food.
This is making them deficient in this vital and essential mineral and even increasing their risks of osteoporosis later on in life. There is a widespread belief that milk is the greatest source of calcium.
This is not true as broccoli is the highest and the richest source of calcium. Adding broccoli to your diet regularly is one of the surest and quickest ways to increase the levels of calcium in your body.
Semi-skimmed milk and whole milk have similar content of calcium when compared to broccoli but it is not still up to. Natural rich sources of calcium are:
- Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, etc.
- Fish that have soft edible bones, examples salmon and sardines
- Organic dairy and dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheese
- Seaweeds like Wakame, hijiki, and kelp
- Seeds and nuts like sesame, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, and pistachio
- Organic cereals
- Orange juice
- Dandelion leaves and figs
- Crushed egg shells (dry them and ground them into powder, add this powder to your food and drinks)
- Rice beverages
- Green peas
- Black-eyed peas
Egg yolks and salmons and a moderate exposure to sunlight help increase the levels of vitamin D in your body. This vitamin helps your body absorb calcium from foods properly.
Causes of Hypocalcemia
There are many factors responsible for calcium deficiency and some of them are:
- Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia
- Exposure to mercury
- Excess consumption of magnesium
- Long-term use of some prescription medications like corticosteroids or chemotherapy
- Prolonged use of laxatives
- Chelation therapy used on those exposed to heavy metals
- Consumption of excess protein and sodium
- A deficiency in parathyroid hormone
- Post-menopausal women who consume lots of alcohol, soda, and caffeine have a higher risks of hypocalcemia than post-menopausal women who don’t
- Osteopenia (low bone density)
- Osteoporosis (a condition in which the bones become extremely porous and weak)
- A deficiency in phosphate
- A deficiency in vitamin D
- Pancreatitis ( inflammation of the pancreas)
- Kidney problems and failure
- Removal of the stomach and other surgical procedures
- Digestive problems and diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease.
How Much Calcium is enough in a Day?
The Institute of Medicine recommends the following doses of calcium for people of different age and sex.
- Toddlers of age 1 to 3 need 700 mg of calcium everyday.
- Little children of age 4 to 8 need 1,000 mg of calcium per day.
- Children and young adults of age 9 to 18 need 1,300 mg of calcium per day.
- Adults of 19 to 50 years need 1,000 mg of calcium per day.
- Pregnant and breast-feeding teenagers need 1,000 mg of calcium per day.
- Pregnant and breast-feeding adults need 1,000 mg of calcium per day.
- Adult male aged 51 to 70 years need 1,000 mg of calcium per day.
- Adult female aged 51 to 70 years need 1,200 mg of calcium per day.
- Adults aged 71 and above need 1,200 mg per day.
Signs of Calcium Deficiency
A deficiency in calcium (hypocalcemia) can lead to many health problems and the most common is bone problems. It can lead to bone thinning and weak bones. Children who are deficient in calcium might not develop well and reach their full potential.
They will suffer from rickets, a condition is which the bones are very weak and flexible. This will lead to bow legs, beaded ribs, and sunken chest. This is why children and teenagers need calcium as they are growing up.
Adequate intake of calcium during childhood, reduces the risks of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis later in life. They may have stunted growth and their height might be affected. Adults with calcium deficiency may have low bone mass and this is one of the risk factors for osteoporosis.
Anybody can be at risks of calcium deficiency. It’s quite easy to spot the signs and symptoms of calcium deficiency because they are very obvious and not hidden. Below are some of the obvious signs and symptoms of calcium deficiency, hypocalcemia:
- Pre-menstrual pains and cramps
- Twitches and muscle aches
- Insomnia and other types of sleep problems
- Muscles spasms and cramps
- Gum disease
- Loose teeth and tooth problems
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
When to Take Calcium supplements
In some health conditions, a doctor can prescribe calcium supplements for you. Some of these conditions are:
- Poor absorption of food nutrients due to problems with your digestive system.
- Osteoporosis and other bone problems.
- Lactose intolerance.
- Consumption of large amounts of sodium or proteins, excess amounts of these nutrients in your body forces it to excrete calcium.
- Those who follow a vegetarian diet (this may be due to some digestive problems and not the diet itself).
- Those on long-term treatment with corticosteroids.
Calcium supplements are prescribed for people with these challenges and these can help them to meet their daily requirements for calcium. Calcium supplements are not suitable for everyone and there are some side effects that occur when you take them for a long time.
People with hypercalcaemia, that is, an excess amount of calcium in the bloodstream can’t take calcium supplements. Though this is not yet clear, it is advisable for people with heart disease to avoid calcium supplements.
Few studies have also shown that high intake of calcium from dairy products and supplements can increase the risks of prostate cancer. It is very important to avoid excess calcium from supplements and calcium-fortified processed foods because they can cause more harm than good when taken in excess.
Another reason why calcium supplements shouldn’t be taken in excess and for a long time is because they are inorganic. The body doesn’t know what to do with inorganic minerals, it doesn’t know how to handle them, so this causes more harm, and more problems than the one you are trying to treat.
This is why your diet, which should contain more of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, is the best way to consume calcium. The plants which are living thing, converts the inorganic calcium to organic and now your body recognizes it and knows how to handle it perfectly.
Another way to maximize your body’s ability to absorb calcium is to treat digestive problems. Poor digestion and absorption of foods can make it difficult for your body to absorb calcium from the foods you eat.
Checkout herbivores, they eat mostly grass and vegetables and they have enough calcium and proteins to build strong bones and muscles. If you eat more of healthy foods, you can get a good amount of calcium if you don’t have digestive problems.
Types of Calcium Supplements
There are many types of calcium supplements and this is due to the different types of calcium compounds used in each supplements. Each calcium compound contains different amounts of elemental calcium.
The elemental calcium is the real amount of calcium present in the supplement. Calcium Carbonate is the most common and cheapest. Common calcium supplements are:
- Calcium lactate (contains 13% of elemental calcium)
- Calcium Carbonate (contains 40% of elemental calcium)
- Calcium Gluconate (contains 9% of elemental calcium)
- Calcium Citrate (contains 21% of elemental calcium)
Some calcium supplements are combined with other minerals like magnesium and vitamin D. Check the label or list of ingredients on the pack of the supplement you want to buy to know the other nutrient it contains.
Calcium supplement is one of the best-selling supplements because of their immense health benefits. Avoid products labeled as “Coral Calcium” even though there are claims that it is superior to the regular calcium.
These claims haves not been verified yet and there are might be dangerous amount of lead in these products.
What to Consider When Choosing Calcium Supplements?
This is the real amount of calcium present in the supplement, it is what your body absorbs when you take it in.
These supplements can cause a few side effects like gas, bloating, and constipation. Calcium Carbonate causes constipation the most. Try different brands to know the one you can tolerate best.
For this supplement to be effective, your body must be able to absorb the elemental calcium. All types of calcium supplements are well absorbed by your body when taken in smaller doses.
Take them at meal times to increase the absorbability. Calcium citrate is well absorbed whether you take it food or without food and it is the most recommended form for people suffering from low stomach acid.
This condition is common in people over 50 years of age and people taking acid blockers. Calcium citrate is also suitable for people with inflammatory bowel disease and digestion/absorption disorders.
Some prescription drugs react with calcium supplements and it is not safe to take them together. Some medications that react with calcium drugs are calcium channel blockers, diabetes (because calcium helps release the hormone insulin), antibiotics, heart disease, bisphosphonates, epilepsy, synthetic thyroid hormones, and blood pressure medications.
There are also some medications you can take with calcium supplements, so you need to ask your doctor or a pharmacist if any interaction would occur between the supplement and the drug you take.
Then, to be on a safe side, take the supplements 1 or 2 hours before or after taking other drugs or supplements. Even though they might not react, when you take them at the same time, calcium can bind to these drugs or supplements and expel them unabsorbed from your body.
Cost and Quality
Go for quality supplements, look for the mark of quality on their pack.
Supplements exists in various forms, these include tablets, powders, liquids, chews, and capsules.
Side Effects of Calcium Supplements
Getting calcium from your food is the safest way to increase the amount of calcium in your body but there are some circumstances that you need the supplements.
Long-term intake of calcium supplements and calcium-fortified foods can lead to an excess amount of calcium in your bloodstream. This can also cause kidney stones.
Increased risks of heart attack and strokes have also been attributed to long-term intake of calcium supplements but this is still being debated on by health experts.
Even at normal doses, calcium supplements can cause gastrointestinal problems like constipation, bloating, gas, or a combination of these three. Calcium citrate has fewer side effects and they are also less pronounced, especially when compared to calcium carbonate. You can reduce the intensity of the side effects by taking them with your food.
Hypercalcaemia and the Danger
Hypercalcaemia occurs when there is a high level of calcium in your bloodstream. This leads to negative and undesirable side effects like irritability, stomach pain, depression, and nausea.
High intake of calcium supplements is responsible for this; other factors that can cause this are thyroid condition and dehydration. Excessive intake of vitamin D supplements will trigger your body to absorb more calcium from foods thus leading to hypercalcaemia.
Other health problems caused by hypercalcaemia are difficulty absorbing zinc and iron from diet, constipation, and the buildup of calcium in soft tissues of the body, thereby turning the body into stone.