Calcium - Everything You Need To Know

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

You probably already know that calcium helps you build stronger bones, but this mineral actually does much more than just that. Furthermore, getting enough calcium isn't as easy as drinking a glass or two of milk every day. In order to absorb and use calcium, your body also needs several other essential nutrients and vitamins. This article covers the steps for getting enough calcium, what foods contain it, and what exactly this mineral does for your body.

What Does Calcium Do?

Calcium is widely known for its ability to help build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Because calcium is stored in the bones and teeth, it helps them to maintain a strong, hard structure. Bones are constantly changing and using the calcium stored within them, so it's important to always get a sufficient amount of calcium in your diet. As you age, your bones breakdown more rapidly, which means you'll need more calcium to supplement to prevent bone loss. That's why calcium is used to prevent osteoporosis, which is especially problematic for post-menopausal women.

Aside from bone strength, calcium does help with several other functions in the body. Calcium helps the heart, nerves and muscles work properly. It also contributes to several metabolic functions, including nerve transmission, intracellular signaling, hormonal secretion and vascular contraction. Additionally, calcium may help to prevent certain diseases and conditions, including hypoparathyroidism, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

It's important to note that without certain minerals and vitamins, calcium won't be properly absorbed or utilized by the body. Make sure you are also getting adequate amounts of magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin D and vitamin K in your diet to ensure that your body can take advantage of your calcium consumption.

Food Sources Of Calcium

Dairy products are the richest food source for calcium. Foods like milk, yogurt and cheese have a higher calcium content than any other foods. However, there are several non-dairy sources of calcium as well, including tofu, blackstrap molasses, Brazil nuts, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, almonds, dried figs, turnips, collards, mustard, kale and Swiss chard. Some seafood dishes, including oysters, sardines and salmon, are also good sources of calcium.

In addition to foods that naturally contain calcium, you can also purchase several types of foods which are fortified with calcium. Look closely at labels on fruit juice, soy milk and cereals to see if they have been fortified with this mineral.

Because calcium is so important for proper body functioning, many people also take a calcium supplement. Of the different types of calcium supplements, calcium citrate and calcium carbonate are the two most popular forms available. Though calcium carbonate is less expensive, calcium citrate is generally easier to absorb and digest.

Side Effects

When individuals get the recommended amount of calcium each day through a balanced diet, there are generally no negative side effects present. Side effects tend to present themselves when too much calcium is ingested, which is more likely to occur when an individual takes calcium supplements. Excess calcium can lead to constipation and upset stomach in milder cases. When very high doses of calcium are consumed, more severe symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, confusion, kidney toxicity or irregular heart rhythms may appear.

In rare cases, people may suffer from a condition where the body produces excess calcium naturally. This is more likely to occur in people with hyperparathyroidism, kidney failure, cancer or sarcoidosis. Individuals with these conditions should not take calcium supplements.

Additionally, there are certain medications which should not be combined with calcium supplements without a physician's consent. These medications include antacids, blood pressure medications, cholesterol-lowering medications, estrogens, diuretics, anti-seizure medications and antibiotics.

Deficiency Symptoms

Though many people do have a calcium deficiency, they are typically very minor and do not result in any immediate symptoms. However, over the long term, a minor calcium deficiency may lead to more serious health problems, most commonly osteoporosis. Post-menopausal women, vegetarians and people who are lactose-intolerant are especially at-risk for developing a calcium deficiency. Individuals who fit into one or more of these groups should ask a physician about whether they should be taking calcium supplements.

Daily Dosage Recommendations

The recommended daily intake of calcium generally increases with age, with a slight peak in intake occurring during adolescence. From birth to 6 months of age, babies should consume about 210 milligrams (mg) daily, then 270 mg each day from 7 months to 1 year of age. Children ages 1 to 3 should have 500 mg of calcium daily; from ages 4 through 8, 800 mg daily; and from ages 9 to 18, 1,300 mg daily. Adults, ages 19 through 50, should get 1,000 mg of calcium per day, and from the age 51 and on, the recommended daily intake increases to 1,200 mg. As with any vitamin or mineral, certain conditions may warrant a higher or lower intake of calcium per day. For example, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consume between 1,000 and 1,300 mg of calcium per day depending on their age.

Generally, people can get a sufficient amount of calcium each day from a healthy, balanced diet. When calcium supplements are used to supplement dietary calcium intake, they should be taken in doses no greater than 500 mg at a time. Supplements should also be taken with plenty of water to avoid constipation.

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