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5 Key Facts about Calcium

5 Key Facts About Calcium

Calcium is one of the essential nutrients, vital for many bodily functions and for strong bones and teeth. “Calcium is really a very important,” says Katherine Tallmadge, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Without it, we would die, which is the definition of an essential nutrient.” Calcium is found in certain foods as well as being available in dietary supplements — such as calcium supplements and calcium magnesium supplements, which supply both essential minerals. Here are some basic facts you need to know about calcium.

Calcium is a mineral. Our bodies contain more calcium than any other mineral. As much as 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies is stored in our teeth and bones, although it is also present in our blood, muscle, and the fluid between body cells.

Calcium is essential for building and maintaining our bones. We have to have enough calcium at all times to ensure that our bones have adequate structure, says Tallmadge. Calcium is also necessary for the contraction and expansion of muscles and blood vessels, the secretion of hormones and enzymes, and nerve impulse transmission throughout the nervous system. “We need a constant amount of calcium,” Tallmadge says. “Not getting enough calcium increases your risk of osteoporosis, hypertension, colon cancer, and preeclampsia.”

Your daily calcium requirement depends on your age and a variety of other factors. For example, teens need more calcium than adults; older adults, particularly post-menopausal women, need extra calcium to prevent osteoporosis because the lower levels of estrogen that accompany menopause decrease bone mass, says Tallmadge. People with conditions such as Crohn’s or celiac disease, which can interfere with calcium absorption, may need extra calcium. And because dairy is a major source of calcium, those who do not or cannot eat dairy may require calcium supplements, says Tallmadge. Here is an overview of how much calcium we need at different stages of life:

It’s important to know that calcium by itself is not enough. “You need a balanced diet including adequate protein and vitamin D levels in order to absorb calcium into your bones,” says Tallmadge.

The best way to get calcium is by eating foods that contain high amounts of the mineral. Many foods such as dairy products contain high amounts of calcium. Calcium is also often added to foods such as juices. Top calcium-rich choices include:

  • Dairy products such as cheese, milk, and yogurt (organic, grass fed and unpasteurized the way nature intended it)
  • Green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale
  • Foods fortified with calcium such as rice milk, almond milk and my least favorite, soymilk.
  • Certain fish, such as salmon, also supply vitamin D.

If you need more calcium than you’re getting through food, your doctor might recommend a dietary supplement. Calcium citrate can be absorbed well on an empty or full stomach, while calcium carbonate is best absorbed when taken with a meal.

Previous research has suggested that people who do not get adequate amounts of calcium may be at increased risk of high blood pressure, and that people who take more calcium may have a reduced risk of weight gain, stroke, and colon cancer. However, the evidence for this is not conclusive.

Calcium is used more than you think in the body.  It is not used just for healthy teeth and bones.  It is also used in every heart pump, muscle contraction, and para-thyroid function.  For women, peak bone mass occurs in your late twenties.  After that, women start to have decreased absorption of calcium over time.  The problem is that it takes 30 years to manifest itself into a clinical diagnosis of osteoporosis.

I usually prescribe a healthy diet rich in green leafy vegetables for their calcium.  Organic, unpasteurized dairy from grass fed cows is also a good source.  Whatever the source, Calcium is vitally important to the body.

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