There’s more to this important nutrient than you may realize
Calcium is a crucial nutrient that helps the body fulfill many functions. You may associate calcium with your daily glass of milk or serving of yogurt to help support strong bones. However, there’s much more to this important mineral than eating your dairy and maintaining healthy bones. Here are 10 interesting facts that you may not know about calcium.
Calcium assists in muscle contraction throughout your body, including your most important muscle: your heart. For this reason, calcium is critical to maintaining a normal heartbeat. The nutrient’s work in your body doesn’t stop there, though. Calcium also plays a role in releasing needed hormones and enzymes, helping your brain communicate with the rest of your body through the nervous system, and ensuring your blood clots properly.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Average adult humans have between 1,000 and 1,200 g of calcium throughout their bodies—that’s over 2 lb (1 kg). About 99 percent of the calcium in your body is found in your bones and teeth, while the remaining 1 percent is found throughout your blood, muscles, and cell fluids.
When needed for metabolic functions, your body will withdraw calcium from your bones, and deposit it back at another time when there’s enough to spare. However, your body can’t make its own calcium. To ensure there is enough to be deposited back to your bones, you need to get calcium through either food or supplements. Prolonged low calcium intake can therefore translate to reduced bone mass, higher fracture rates, and increased risk of osteoporosis.
Calcium has become known as the bone protector, but it doesn’t do it alone. Vitamin D is also a vital nutrient for bone health. Your body needs vitamin D in order to absorb and utilize calcium. In addition to benefiting bone health, this dynamic duo has been shown to work better together in protecting gum and dental health, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, and reducing mortality in the elderly.
Research has shown that calcium can be helpful to your gut, acting as a prebiotic to support the health of gut microbiota. Since calcium is absorbed in your gut, it makes sense that healthier gut flora has been linked to better calcium absorption, resulting in increased bone density.
Adults under 50 are recommended to get 1,000 mg of calcium each day, while adults over 50 should aim for about 1,200 mg per day. An online calculator can help give you an idea of whether or not your regular diet is providing enough calcium. If you think you’re not getting enough, talk to your health care practitioner about ways to increase your calcium intake. Supplementation can be a convenient option.
A low level of calcium in the blood is known as hypocalcemia. While mild cases typically do not cause obvious short-term symptoms, serious cases can cause tingling or numbness in fingers, muscles cramps, spasms, abnormal heart rates, and low energy. Such cases are almost always caused by serious health problems or certain medical treatments, rather than a slight calcium deficiency in the diet of an otherwise healthy person.
Higher than normal levels of calcium in the body is known as hypercalcemia. Mild cases may not result in any symptoms, but more severe cases can cause constipation, vomiting, weakened bones, kidney stones, and interference with heart and brain function. Hypercalcemia can be caused by taking too many calcium and vitamin D supplements, as well as certain diseases, medications, or dehydration.
Research has shown that getting enough calcium—in combination with vitamin D—can help reduce and even eliminate symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as changes in mood and appetite. Sufficient calcium and vitamin D intake has also been associated with a lower risk of early menopause and less bone mineral density loss after menopause.
Dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, but if dairy isn’t your thing, you can still get the recommended daily amount through other sources. Non-dairy sources of calcium include leafy greens, such as broccoli, bok choy, and kale, as well as fish with soft edible bones, like canned sardines and salmon. Calcium can also be found in fortified foods, including non-dairy milk, orange juice, cereals, and soy products. If you’re looking for a calcium-rich dairy-free recipe, try this tasty Quick Calcium Smoothie.