Calcium is a chemical element that is essential for living organisms, including humans. It is the most abundant mineral in the body and vital for good health.
We need to consume a certain amount of calcium to build and maintain strong bones and healthy communication between the brain and other parts of the body.
Calcium is found naturally in many foods; it is also added to certain products, and supplements are available.
Why do we need calcium?
Calcium plays a range of roles in the body; these include:
Around 99 percent of the calcium in the human body is found in the bones and teeth; it is essential for the development, growth, and maintenance of bone.
Calcium continues strengthening the bones of humans until they reach the age of 20-25 when bone density is highest.
After that age, bone density declines, but calcium continues to help maintain bones and slow down bone density loss, which is a natural part of the aging process.
People who do not consume enough calcium before the age of 20-25 have a considerably higher risk of developing brittle bone disease or osteoporosis later in life; this is because calcium is drawn from the bones as a reserve.
Calcium regulates muscle contraction, including the beating of the heart muscle.
When a nerve stimulates a muscle, calcium is released; it helps the proteins in muscle carry out the work of contraction.
The muscle only relaxes again once the calcium is pumped back out of the muscle.
Calcium plays a key role in normal blood coagulation (clotting). The process of clotting is complex with a number of steps; a host of chemicals are involved. Calcium plays a part in a number of these steps.
Calcium is a co-factor for many enzymes; this means that without the presence of calcium, these important enzymes cannot work as efficiently.
Calcium affects the smooth muscle that surrounds blood vessels, causing it to relax.
It is important to note that calcium is not easily absorbed without the presence of vitamin D.
Health Benefits Of Calcium
Calcium efficiently helps in maintaining optimal body weight in both males and females.
If there is any deficiency of the mineral in your diet, the body will tend to release parathyroid hormone, which in turn stimulates the bones to release it into your bloodstream.
This maintains the balance. On the other side, the parathyroid hormone also stimulates the production of fat and prevents its break down, which can subsequently make you obese.
Basically, make sure that you are taking the right amount of calcium so that obesity does not creep in.
Protects Cardiac Muscles
Calcium protects your heart muscles. Sufficient amounts of this essential mineral can help cardiac muscles contract and relax properly.
It also helps the nervous system maintain a proper pressure in your arteries.
If there is a calcium drop, a hormone called calcitriol is released, which contracts the smooth muscles of the arteries, thereby increasing the blood pressure.
Cardiac muscles need extracellular calcium ions for contraction. When the intracellular concentration of calcium increases, the ions gather together on the protein troponin.
This stimulates the secretion of extracellular fluid and the intracellular stores, including that of the skeletal muscle. Which is only activated by calcium stored in the sarcoplasmic reticulum.
Prevents Colon Cancer
Adequate calcium prevents the overall risk of colon cancer and suppresses the growth of polyps that can lead to cancer.
Its supplementation reduces the risk of adenomas as well as nonmalignant tumors of the colon.
This is actually a precursor to colon cancer, but it’s still not known if calcium intake minimizes the cancer risk completely.
The excess mineral is left in your intestines after your body absorbs what it needs.
On its way through the colon, this unabsorbed calcium is believed to bind to the cancer promoters so they’re excreted together from the body.
Studies have shown that both food sources of calcium and its supplements provide this protective effect.
The supplements should be taken in a liquid form because liquid vitaminsabsorb 5 times better than the pills.
Reduces Premenstrual Depression
Adequate amounts of calcium lessen the symptoms of a premenstrual syndrome like dizziness, mood swings, hypertension, and many others.
Low levels of the mineral might trigger the release of the hormones that are responsible for premenstrual mood swings including irritability and depression.
Prevents Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are actually crystallized deposits of calcium and other minerals in the human urinary tract.
The most common form of kidney stones is oxalate stones.
Previously, it was thought that a high intake or high absorption of the minerals develop kidney stones.
But latest studies show that a high dietary calcium intake decreases the risk of kidney stones considerably.
In short, dietary calcium does not cause kidney stones, but excess amounts of the mineral present in water surely result in kidney stones.
Other factors like high oxalate consumption from leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, as well as reduced fluid consumption, can prove to be a big cause for kidney stones.
Top 10 Calcium-Rich Foods
Calcium helps you lose weight, studies show. Really exciting research shows that if you get three servings of dairy daily, you’re not only preventing osteoporosis, but you’re enhancing weight loss.
However, that research has only involved dairy projects, she adds. “It seems there is a synergistic relationship between protein and calcium. Eating other calcium-rich foods, like collards, won’t do that.”
Nonetheless, calcium in any form is good for your body. Some of the top calcium-rich foods are:
1) Raw Milk
1 cup: 300 mg (30% DV)
2) Kale (cooked)
1 cup: 245 mg (24% DV)
3) Sardines (with bones)
2 ounces: 217 mg (21% DV)
4) Yogurt or Kefir
6 oz: 300 mg (30% DV)
1 ½ cup cooked: 93 mg (9% DV)
1 cup: 41 mg (4% DV)
1 oz: 224 mg (22% DV)
8) Bok Choy
1 cup:74 mg (7% DV)
1 cup: 82 mg (8% DV)
1 oz: 76 mg (8% DV)
Recommended Calcium Intake
Sufficient amounts of calcium are required for bone strength. The body uses calcium for the heart, blood, muscles and nerves.
Without the proper amount of calcium intake, the body will strip calcium from the bones where it is stored, causing the bones to get weaker.
It is estimated that 55% of men and 78% of women over age 20 in the U.S. do not get enough calcium in their diet.
It is important to note that since the human body cannot produce its own calcium, adequate calcium intake is vital.
The recommended amounts of calcium for adults are as follows:
- For pre-menopausal women 25-50 years old and post-menopausal women on estrogen replacement therapy: 1,000-1,200 milligrams of calcium per day. 1,500 milligrams of calcium per day is recommended for pregnant or lactating women.
- For postmenopausal women less than age 65 not on estrogen replacement therapy: 1,500 milligrams of calcium per day.
- With men aged 25-65: 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day.
- For all people (women and men) over age 65: 1,500 milligrams of calcium per day.