What is Calcium?
You’ve probably heard of the mineral calcium, but do you know why it’s crucial for your healthy? Calcium is an element that is essential for all living organisms, including humans. Calcium is found in several foods, and is one of the most important single nutrients when it comes to the health of our bones and teeth.
The human body needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth while also carrying out several other important functions. Almost all of the calcium in humans in stored in the bones, where it continually maintains their hardness and structure.
Bones in humans don’t come with a lifetime guaranteed. Continuous maintenance is needed, otherwise they would just weaken and break. When we build strong bones, we build a healthy balance of calcium in our bodies.
When we take foods that are low in calcium, our bodies are forced to take calcium from the bones to maintain the blood calcium at normal levels. Statistics and research have shown that there is more calcium in the human body than any other mineral, which goes to show the crucial role it plays.
Calcium is the 5th most abundant element in the earth’s crust and seawater. It is an alkaline earth metal and does not exist freely as a metal in nature because it is too reactive. It is an essential trace element in almost all living organisms and one that must be constituted in our diets.
In certain cases, calcium is taken as a dietary supplement for people with low levels in their blood. Calcium nitrate and calcium carbonate supplements help provide the body with enough calcium when we cannot get enough from foods alone.
Uses and Benefits of Calcium
Calcium has several uses in the human body, making it an essential element in our bodies. Lack of enough calcium in the body leads a condition called rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults.
Some of the main functions of calcium in the human body include:
- Ensuring there is normal blood clotting
- Helping build strong bones and teeth
- Regulating the contraction of muscles and the heartbeat
- Helping the nerves carry messages between the brain and other parts of the body
- Helping in the release of hormones and enzymes that affect most functions in the body
- Helping blood vessels move blood throughout the body
The uses of calcium are many, making it a crucial element that should not be missed in your diet. Our bodies constantly need calcium to build strong bones and teeth.
There is no point in your life at which your bones and teeth are fully grown and will not require more calcium. Bones and teeth, like many other parts of our bodies, are living tissues and are constantly turning over and needing to be replenished. Calcium deposits and withdrawals to the bones occur daily.
Our bones are like a bank account for calcium with the body withdrawing some when there is an insufficient amount in the blood. Strengthening of bones in humans by calcium continues until individuals reach the age of 20-25 years.
After the age of 25, calcium only maintains bones and prevents bone density loss. Most people who develop bone density loss (osteoporosis) usually suffered low calcium intake before the age of 25. The calcium in the bones functions as a reserve, and is only withdrawn when there is a shortage in the blood. The hardness and structure of our teeth and bones can all be attributed to the calcium stored there.
Muscle contraction and heartbeat are also regulated by calcium. The reaction of calcium with the regulatory proteins in the body triggers muscle contraction. The absence of calcium prevents interaction of the actin and myosin. The release of hormones and enzymes are also affected by calcium, leading to various functions in the body.
Calcium also helps blood vessels move blood around the body and helps the blood to clot when needed. Some studies carried out by the North Carolina University in 2010 have shown that an adequate supply of calcium early in life can even help protect individuals against obesity.
Benefits Of Calcium When Combined With Other Nutrients
Further studies have shown that calcium might have several other benefits beyond bone health when combined with other nutrients. Calcium alongside vitamin D has been shown to protect against diseases like diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure.
The evidence of such health benefits is not quite definitive yet, but there is a reasonable suggestion that it helps. In the prevention of cancer, calcium has been found to play a proven role, especially in the prevention of skin cancer.
This is done by regulating the pigment cells in the skin layer and allowing it to tan when exposed to sunlight and protect itself from the harmful UV rays that are one of skin cancer’s main causes.
Further research by the National Cancer Research Institute shows that individuals with low calcium in their epidermis are more likely to develop skin cancer. This is because calcium in the skin stimulates antioxidants the help fight the precancerous tissues.
Calcium is a must if we are to live a healthy lifestyle and avoid bone problems later in life. Calcium in the epidermis part of the skin plays an important role in skin growth and regulation. It helps regulate how fast the body generates new skin cells to replace the old ones.
Most skin that appears dry and fragile usually has low levels of calcium beneath. The dull appearance of the skin is usually caused by lack of calcium to spur new skin growth. Calcium also helps produce more sebum in the skin, helping to keep it moist.
Your body’s need for calcium is way beyond what you’d imagined. By know, you’re probably wondering if you’re taking in enough calcium for what is needed by the body. In most cases, we get calcium from our foods, but we rarely even know that we’ve gotten it. Before we get to the main foods that supply us with rich sources of calcium, let’s have a look at some of the risks and side effects of too much calcium and too little calcium in humans.
Risks And Side Effects Of Calcium
Like any other nutrients in our bodies, too much or too little calcium can have various risks and side effects. How much calcium do you need? The average adult needs approximately 700mg of calcium daily, which should be easily sourced from your diet without the need for supplementation.
People with low intake of calcium face health problems, usually related to weak bones. Children with too little calcium might not even reach their full potential adult height. For adults, low bone mass causes a risk for osteoporosis.
In most cases, children and adolescents are at risk of missing out on the right amount of calcium that the body requires. Adults beyond their 50s might also be at risk of getting very little calcium.
Insufficient calcium does not produce any immediate symptoms, as the body sucks the calcium from the bones for its use. The lower bone density caused by this then manifests into problems that happen over a longer period, usually starting with bone fractures.
Common symptoms that might indicate too little calcium include numbness and tingling of the fingers. There are also abnormal heart rhythms that might lead to death if not properly corrected. Most of these symptoms usually occur in people with serious health problems or those undergoing medical treatment.
Too much calcium rarely happens unless you take doses of calcium higher than 1500mg per day. It’s rare for people to get too much calcium in their bodies just from diets alone, and it typically only results from over supplementation. Excess calcium in your body could lead to diarrhea and pain in the stomach. Otherwise, there are no known complications from excess consumption of calcium.
You should get all the calcium your body requires by eating a healthy source of foods. If, by any chance, you’re taking calcium supplements, ensure you don’t exceed 1500mg per day. Taking less than 1500mg will not cause any harm.
Statistics from the National Institute of Health (NIH) show that over 43% of adult Americans take calcium supplements daily, with 70% of these being women. This increases their calcium intake by about 300mg a day.
Further studies have shown that women whose diets are rich in calcium tend to live longer than their counterparts with low calcium diets.
Research has shown that excess calcium in the body can interfere with the absorption of zinc and iron, although there is no conclusive evidence. In adults, the risk of kidney stones increases with high consumption of calcium supplements, but this does not seem to occur when there is simply a higher level of calcium sourced from food.
Individuals who take high doses of calcium also have a higher risk of getting heart diseases and prostate cancer. However, more research is needed to find the links between calcium and these effects.
Supplements of calcium can interfere with certain medicines in the body. Some medicines, on the other hand, can lower or increase the levels of calcium in the body. Calcium lowers the absorption of the following drugs:
- Antibiotics of the tetracycline and fluoroquinolone families
- Bisphosphonates that treat osteoporosis
- Tiludronate disodium (treats the Paget’s disease)
It is always advisable to speak to your doctor before you begin taking calcium supplements, especially if you are taking any other medications.
Dietitians recommend that we obtain our calcium from different food sources and drinks. It is worth noting that our bodies don’t produce any calcium, and we have to get it from other outside sources.
Calcium is available in a variety of foods, including:
- Dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and milk
- Green leafy vegetables such as the kales, cabbage, okra, and broccoli
- Sardines, canned salmon, and other fish with soft edible bones
- Soya beans
- Bread and other products made from fortified flour
- Seaweeds such as the wakame, kelp, and hijiki
- Dandelion leaves
- Calcium-fortified drinks and foods such as soy products, fruit juices, cereals, milk, and milk substitutes
Dairy products are usually the best when you want a good source of calcium in your body. They exist in different forms, but just drinking a glass of milk daily will work just fine. Fish like sardines and salmon where you get to eat the soft bones also provide enough calcium. It is always recommended that you diversify your calcium sources and don’t stick to just one. Eating them at varied times also makes it easier for the body to absorb them better.
However, some foods like the dark green vegetables with high levels of oxalic acid might not be the best sources of calcium. The presence of oxalic acid prevents the ability of the body to absorb calcium into the blood vessels.
To absorb good amounts of calcium to your blood vessels, you require vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body absorb the calcium and retain it in the bones. This is why you find that most calcium supplements have been combined with vitamin D as an ingredient. Egg yolks and salmon fish bones contain small amounts of naturally occurring vitamin D. Exposure to the sun can also give you the necessary amounts of vitamin D required.
People should always aim to get all their calcium requirements from food sources before thinking about supplements. Supplements, just as the name suggests, are there to complement or fill in areas where food sources come short.
Your primary source of calcium should come from foods rich in calcium as much as possible. Some individuals who eat a vegan diet or are lactose tolerant require supplements because they cannot source enough calcium from their diets. Individuals with osteoporosis and those recovering after a long treatment with corticosteroids can also benefit from using the supplements.
We all need calcium for the various bodily functions we’ve discussed above. Our bodies do not produce calcium, and we have to get it from outside sources. It is always advised that we get enough calcium during childhood and into our early 20s in order to prevent cases of osteoporosis in adulthood. Symptoms of insufficient calcium only present in the long term and usually go unnoticed in the earlier stages.