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Calcium: Health benefits and sources

We all know that we require a specific set of vitamins and minerals to maintain good health. This is one of those things that gets to us in the earliest childhood. One of the most important nutrients from within this list is calcium. 

From the list of important nutrients, one of the most important is calcium. We see an endless variety of foods in the supermarket that boast high levels of calcium. Everything from plain milk products to foods that contain added calcium, the prevalence of calcium is ubiquitous. 

There are good reasons for the visibility of calcium. There is a lengthy list of calcium benefits. Most of us know that calcium benefits us with strong bones. But there are many other calcium benefits we may not be aware of. 

There are also numerous sources of calcium. Milk is not the only source for us to get the full range of calcium benefits. Since calcium is a naturally occurring element, it turns up in all kinds of food sources. 

We can get calcium benefits in multiple ways. This article will explore the many benefits of calcium. What exactly is calcium? How do we benefit from calcium? And what happens if we do not get enough calcium? These are the questions this article will answer. 

What is Calcium?

Calcium is an elemental metal. The natural state for calcium is to exist in some kind of bound salt since pure calcium is unstable. Calcium carbonate is the most common form of calcium. Since calcium is so abundant, it is the fifth most abundant element on earth, it is one of the most biologically important elements. 

Calcium is the most abundant in the body. As such, it performs multiple crucial roles. One of the most important functions of calcium in the body is maintaining bone health. About 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies is stored in our bones. But calcium is also important for the nervous system and for cardiovascular health. 

Since our bodies cannot produce calcium, we must get sufficient amounts from dietary sources or from a supplement. Thankfully, there are abundant sources of calcium in the foods we eat. 

Calcium benefits

Bone health

About 99 percent of the calcium in the human body is in bones and teeth. Calcium is essential for the healthy growth of bones and teeth. We need calcium to maintain the health of our bones. This remains true after we stop growing because we tend to lose bone density over time. Calcium is essential for the growth and maturity of bones, and we require calcium to sustain the density of our bones as we age. 

Women who have experienced menopause need to pay particular attention to calcium intake. Post-menopausal women have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become porous and brittle. By taking a calcium supplement and paying close attention to getting enough calcium in their diet, post-menopausal women can substantially lower their risk of osteoporosis. 

Muscle function

The most important function of muscles is to contract. The contractions are the actions that do all the work of muscles. Calcium is one of the nutrients that make muscle contraction function properly. 

Our bodies pump calcium into the muscle to make it contract. By pulling the calcium back out of muscle tissue the muscle can relax. 

Cardiovascular health

Calcium is important to the process of blood clotting. There are multiple steps to the chemistry of blood clotting that involve several chemicals. Calcium is one of the most essential chemicals in blood clotting. 

Calcium also plays a key role in how the heart muscle functions. Calcium relaxes the smooth muscle that surrounds blood vessels and helps regulate the pressure in the blood vessels. Calcium ultimately plays a key role in regulating blood pressure. 

Promotes dental health

Calcium is an elemental building block of teeth. As we grow and mature, we require calcium to grow healthy teeth. But we still require calcium in adulthood to maintain healthy teeth. Studies on adults show that taking sufficient quantities of calcium throughout your adult life significantly reduces the risks of developing periodontal disease.  

Prevent kidney stones and kidney disease

Kidney stones are crystals that form in the kidneys made of mineral salt. One of the most common mineral kidney stones is calcium oxalate stones. Previously, scientists believed that too much calcium in the diet causes these types of kidney stones. New research shows the opposite is the case. Recent studies show that taking higher amounts of calcium tends to prevent this common type of kidney stone. 

Chronic kidney disease means that the kidneys can no longer filter toxins from the blood as they should. Doctors have known for a long time that some forms of kidney disease are the result of imbalances of calcium. Getting enough calcium in your diet, or by taking calcium supplements, you can greatly reduce the risk of developing chronic kidney disease. 

Reduces the risks of developing colorectal cancer

When we include healthy amounts of calcium in our diet with a balanced diet that includes things like vitamin B6 and magnesium we can significantly reduce our risk of developing colorectal cancer. 

Calcium has been shown to reduce the risk of developing polyps that lead to colorectal cancer. In fact, one study showed that people who took calcium supplements still retained the benefits of cancer-fighting properties in calcium as much as five years after taking the supplement. 

Promotes weight loss

The science of the way fat works in the body at least partially depends on calcium levels. Calcium changes the balance between the breakdown of fats in cells and the way fat is stored in cells. For these reasons, the proper balance of calcium in the body has everything to do with how you retain fat and keep weight on. 

As paradoxical as it may sound, high calcium intake can actually cause a reduction in calcium levels that gets stored in fat cells. This leads to an increased breakdown of fats and reduced weight.  

This process also works with levels of vitamin D. We need vitamin D to make calcium work properly in the body. By achieving a proper balance of calcium and vitamin D, we can increase the production of hormones that breakdown fat cells. 

Relieves symptoms of PMS

The symptoms of PMS are, unfortunately, normal and a part of life. But you can reduce the severity of these symptoms and one way to do that is by maintaining proper levels of calcium in your body. 

It turns out that the symptoms of PMS and the symptoms of calcium deficiency are remarkably similar. Both cause fluctuations in hormone levels that can lead to the symptoms of PMS. Researchers have found that increased levels of calcium from calcium supplements relieve painful symptoms that come from PMS. 

Sources of Calcium

There is a vast array of natural sources of calcium. We tend to associate calcium in our diet with milk and dairy products. But there is the good news of the vegans and those who suffer from lactose intolerance. There are many non-dairy sources of calcium. 

Seeds

Seeds are known to be food powerhouses. Many seeds are incredibly high in calcium. These include poppy, sesame, celery, and chia seeds. 

One tablespoon of poppy seeds, for example, contains 126 mg of calcium. This is 13 percent of the RDI

Cheese

Nearly all cheeses are great sources of calcium. Parmesan cheese is the best. An ounce of parmesan cheese contains 331 mg of calcium or about 30 percent of the RDI. Soft cheeses have less, but they still contain large quantities of calcium. Cheese has the added benefit in that dairy products tend to provide forms of calcium that are more easily absorbed by the body. 

Aged cheeses are also high in calcium and these tend to be much easier for people who are lactose intolerant. 

Yogurt

Yogurt is loaded with calcium. Most yogurt is also rich in probiotic bacteria that enhance the health of your digestive tract. One cup of plain yogurt contains 30 percent of the calcium you need in a day. 

Greek yogurt tends to be higher in protein. If you want to really make your morning cup of yogurt count, try Greek yogurt for a solid dose of calcium, probiotics, and protein. 

Sardines and canned salmon

Both sardines and canned salmon are high in calcium because of the edible bones in canned fish. A single 3.75 ounce can of sardines has about 35 percent of the RDI for calcium. Also, keep in mind, both sardines and canned salmon are high in proteins and omega-3 fatty acids that are ideal for the health of your heart, brain, and skin. 

Beans and lentils

Beans and lentils are known to be high in fiber, protein, and micronutrients. These micronutrients mostly consist of iron, zinc, folate, and magnesium. But some varieties of beans and lentils contain significant amounts of calcium. 

Winged beans have the highest calcium of any variety. A single cup of singed beans contains 172 grams of calcium. Another bean variety that is high in calcium is white beans with about 180 grams of calcium. 

Almonds

Nearly all varieties of nuts are high in calcium. Almonds are the best. One ounce (about 22 nuts) of almonds contains 8 percent of the RDI for calcium. Almonds are also a great source of fiber and protein. 

Calcium deficiency

Not getting enough calcium can be a serious matter. Beyond the obvious problems with bones and teeth, calcium deficiency, or hypocalcemia, can lead to a host of serious health issues. These include: 

Calcium deficiencies can affect all parts of the body, resulting in weak nails, slower hair growth, and fragile, thin skin. Since calcium is important to the proper function of neurotransmitters, extreme calcium deficiencies can lead to seizures. 

Calcium dosage

The calcium dosage varies according to age and gender. The National Institutes of Health provide the following RDI guidelines:  

  • Children 9-18: 1300 mg
  • Children 4-8 years: 1000 mg
  • Children 1-3 years: 700mg
  • Children 7-12 months: 260mg
  • Children 0-6 months: 200 mg
  • Women 71 years and up: 1200 mg
  • Women 51-70 years: 1200 mg
  • Women 31-50 years: 1000 mg
  • Women 19-30 years: 1000 mg
  • Men 71 years and up: 1200 mg
  • Men 51-70 years: 1200 mg
  • Men 31-50 years: 1000 mg
  • Men 19-30 years: 1000mg

Calcium risks

Although it doesn't happen often, some people have taken so much calcium that it causes hypercalcemia, an above-normal level of calcium in the blood. Hypercalcemia may cause nausea, vomiting, confusion, and other neurological symptoms.

Calcium may react with certain types of drugs such as a few specific antibiotics. As with any other nutritional supplement, check with your doctor to make sure you will not risk interactions with a calcium supplement and any medications you may be taking. 

Conclusion

Most of us have a sense that we need to get enough calcium in our diets. We learn this at an early age, and we tend to assume that we are doing alright with calcium intake. An average diet will consist of things like dairy products that are naturally high in calcium. 

Calcium is one of the main micronutrients necessary for good health. As such, we need to pay close attention to how much calcium we get on any given day. Our bones and teeth, our heart health, and even the health of our circulatory system depend on getting enough calcium. 

As we age, we need to pay even more attention to calcium. Aging can lead to porous and brittle bones. By being diligent about our calcium intake, we can prevent problems associated with aging such as osteoporosis. 

The good news in this is that there are many foods that are rich in calcium. Certainly, dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are known to be high in calcium. But seeds and nuts are also high in calcium. 

There is also a vast array of proven and safe supplements that contain calcium. For those of us who struggle with getting all the calcium we need from our diet, a solid calcium supplement will help us stay healthy. 

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