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Overview of Calcium: Health Benefits, deficiency, symptoms and sources

Dr. Ajay KohliNov 21, 2022

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and is vital for lifelong bone health. Almost 98% of Calcium in the body is stored in the bones and teeth. Calcium makes up the structure of bones and teeth and is essential to keep them healthy. It can be found in some food items, added to others, present in some medications such as antacids, and can be taken as a dietary supplement. Read ahead for an overview of Calcium.

Calcium

Contents

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Health benefits of Calcium

The benefits of Calcium and its role in various body functions are as follows.

  • Bone health: For growing new bones and keeping the existing ones strong.

  • Blood flow: Helps blood flow as vessels relax and constrict.

  • Hormonal function: Regulates the release of hormones and enzymes that support body functions.

  • Muscle movement: Helps in normal bodily movements (muscle contraction & relaxation).

  • Calcium supplements: For treating and preventing weak and brittle bones; in conditions called Osteoporosis, Osteopenia.

  • Assists with nerve messaging between the brain and body systems. Doctors use Calcium to control elevated levels of magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium in the body. It is used as an ingredient in antacids.

Other areas where Calcium or its supplements support health conditions are listed below.

  • Blood pressure: There is evidence that Calcium can help prevent or control high blood pressure.

  • Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): Calcium may ease PMS symptoms and can contribute to prevention of certain cancers.

  • Breast cancer: Some studies have shown that Calcium with vitamin D, may help protect premenopausal women from breast cancer.

  • Weight loss:Calcium is also being studied as a weight loss aid.

  • Colorectal cancer: Reports have shown that Calcium supplements of more than 200 mg daily and intake of high-Calcium dairy foods will likely decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.

  • Kidney stones: Calcium-rich foods are thought to reduce the formation of stones by decreasing the absorption of oxalates, which are the building blocks of Calcium-oxalate stones. However, other unidentified dairy food components may also be to blame for the lower risk.

Calcium deficiency and symptoms

When the blood has low levels of Calcium, it is called Hypocalcemia. It is also known as Calcium deficiency disease. Depending on the severity of the deficiency of Calcium, the symptoms can be mild or unnoticeable to serious and life-threatening. 

Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency

  • Muscle cramps or weakness

  • Numbness and tingling

  • Fatigue

  • Abnormal heart rhythm

  • Poor appetite

  • Seizures

  • Osteopenia and Osteoporosis

  • Confusion and memory loss

  • Dry skin

  • Tooth decay and gum disease

  • Rickets in children

Bones sometimes release Calcium into the bloodstream if the diet does not meet the needs. And with consistent low-Calcium dietary intake, the release of Calcium from bones can become too intense, so much that they become weak and brittle enough to break. In some cases, if your blood contains insufficient Calcium, your body will use hormones to reduce the amount of Calcium excreted in your urine by your kidneys.

A total Calcium test is the most common test for Calcium levels in the blood. Your healthcare provider recommends this test when they suspect a Calcium deficiency. 

Food sources of Calcium

Your body does not naturally produce Calcium; therefore, it must be obtained from other sources. Calcium is available in many food items and not just milk or other dairy products. Its sources include the following.

  • Dark green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, okra, mustard, turnip

  • Bread and anything made with fortified flour

  • Almonds

  • Fish with edible bones, such as sardines, canned salmon, and pilchards

  • Dairy products (source: cow, goat, sheep), such as cheese, milk, and yoghourt

  • Calcium-fortified foods and beverages, such as soy products, cereal, fruit juices, and milk substitutes

  • Fortified plant-based milk (sources: almond, soy, rice)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of frequently asked questions about Calcium.

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How much Calcium do I need?

Your Calcium needs depend on your age and sex.

Calcium: Recommended daily amount (RDA) | Age, Male, Female | Pregnant | Lactating (0-6 months*, 200 mg, 200 mg) (7-12 months*, 260 mg, 260 mg ) (1-3 years, 700 mg, 700 mg) (4-8 years, 1,000 mg, 1,000 mg) (9-13 years, 1,300 mg, 1,300 mg) (14-18 years, 1,300 mg, 1,300 mg, 1,300 mg, 1, 300 mg) (19-50 years, 1,000 mg, 1,000 mg, 1,000 mg, 1,000 mg) (51-70 years, 1,000 mg, 1,200 mg) (>70+ years, 1,200 mg, 1,200 mg)

*Adequate Intake (AI)

The recommended upper limit for Calcium is 2,500 mg a day for adults 19 to 50. For those 51 and older, the limit is 2,000 mg a day.

Is it harmful to consume too much Calcium?

Taking too much Calcium (more than 1,500 mg a day) can lead to inconveniences such as stomach pain and diarrhoea. This could lead to increased levels of Calcium in the blood, called Hypercalcemia. Although it is unlikely to result in any serious life-threatening situations, chronic ingestion of high Calcium doses, exceeding the upper limit for Calcium in foods and supplements (2500 mg) daily, may increase the risk of conditions such as kidney stones, prostate cancer, and constipation in adults. People over the age of 50 should not take more than 2,000 mg daily.

Why does the body need vitamin D to absorb Calcium?

Calcium is actively absorbed from the small intestine in the presence of vitamin D. Without enough vitamin D, one can't form enough of the hormone calcitriol (known as the “active vitamin D”).  Active vitamin D helps to increase Calcium absorption by the gut from food into the bloodstream and also prevents Calcium loss from the kidneys. Both Calcium and vitamin D work together to protect your bones.

How much vitamin D intake is recommended?

Experts recommend a daily intake of 600 IU (International Units) of vitamin D up to age 70. 

Men and women over the age of 70 should increase their daily intake to 800 IU, which can also be obtained from supplements or vitamin D-rich foods like egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver, and fortified milk. Adults should not exceed 4,000 IU per day, according to the Institute of Medicine. However, doctors may prescribe higher doses for people who are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D can be obtained in three ways: through the skin from sunlight, through the diet, and through supplements.

Is there anything that interferes with the body's ability to absorb Calcium?

While vitamin D increases the absorption of Calcium, some things can hinder the absorption of Calcium in your body. These include the following.

  • Caffeine

  • Excessive dietary fibre

  • Phosphates (in soft drinks)

  • Some medicines, such as tetracycline (an antibiotic) and antacids that contain aluminium

References:

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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