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The effect of calcium on the human body

Calcium: Effects, Supplements, Deficiency, Sources, and More

What is Calcium?

Calcium (Ca) is an essential nutrient that helps to form strong bones and teeth. This naturally occurring substance is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Studies suggest that 99% of the body's calcium is found within the skeleton and teeth. The remaining 1% is contained in our bloodstream and other tissues. Calcium is also required for blood clotting and muscle functioning inside the body. Today, calcium is widely known for preventing osteoporosis and bone defects in humans. The only source of calcium is from the food we eat. It is found in some foods or added to others to fortify them. Calcium is also available as a dietary supplement and present in some medicines.

Calcium Health benefits 

Calcium plays a vital role to keep our bones and teeth healthy. Well, this is how it works. After eating a calcium-rich diet, the calcium is absorbed in our small intestine. During the process of circulation, it is mostly deposited into our bones. Due to effect, calcium helps to prevent 'thinning' of the bones. A low level of bone density is one of the primary causes of weak bones and osteoporosis.

Studies have discovered that our bone mass grows most quickly during adolescence. Thus, our youth is the ideal time to build bone mass by consuming high calcium. There is also favourable evidence that calcium improves heart health. Since calcium helps to regulate muscle contractions, including your heartbeat, these studies claim that it reduces blood pressure and the risk of developing hypertension.

In summary, the key functions of calcium include:

  • Building strong bones and teeth.
  • Regulating muscle contractions, including your heartbeat
  • Ensuring blood clots properly.

Calcium Supplements

Calcium Supplements are beneficial for people with a low calcium level or nutritional deficiency. Taking quality supplements also helps to promote bone formation and prevent osteoporosis. Like every drug, calcium supplements require caution and precision to enjoy their maximum benefits. This means that anyone who takes calcium supplements should always stick to the prescribed dosage to avoid abuse and side effects.  

There are two main forms of calcium supplements. They are Calcium carbonate and Calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is more popular in the market because it is both inexpensive and convenient. However, the main difference between both forms of calcium supplements is how they are absorbed into the body. While calcium carbonate relies on food before it can be absorbed into the body, calcium citrate do not require food. For this reason, calcium citrate is the best choice for people who suffer from stomach or bowel disorders. Another difference is that calcium citrate may require more tablets while Calcium carbonate may require few tablets to get the required dose. It is also believed that calcium carbonate has a higher risk of side effects than calcium citrate.

Related:EXERCISE, CALCIUM AND VITAMIN D: THE SECRETS OF STRONGER BONES

Calcium Dosage Requirement 

Several research suggests that the absorption of calcium is highest in doses less than 500mg. This implies that the highest dose a person should consume at once should be less than 500mg. Therefore, you should avoid eating too much calcium (above 500mg) contained in a single plate of food at a time. The same rule applies when you take calcium supplements. So, for example, if you want to take 1,000mg of calcium a day, it is best to split the dose and take 500mg at two separate times during the day. The daily, average calcium-intake recommended for everyone include:

    Class AgeDosage per day
Children1 to 3 years 350 mg
Children4 to 6 years 450 mg
Children7 to 10 years 600 mg
Adolescent Boys11 to 17 years 1000 mg
Adolescent Girls11 to 17 years 800 mg
Adults 18 to 50 years       1000mg/1300mg
Adults51 to 70 years1000mg
Adults71 years and above1200mg
Breastfeeding women 18 to 50 years1,250 mg

Calcium Deficiency

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A situation of calcium deficiency is called Hypocalcemia. Hypocalcemia is caused when a person has insufficient calcium intake over a long period of time, especially in childhood. For this reason, most children who are allergic to foods rich in calcium stand a high risk of Hypocalcemia later in their life. Some medications also reduce calcium level in the body. These medications include Steroids, Diuretics (drugs that make you urinate), and Antacids (drugs that reduce stomach acidity). People who take these medications must increase their calcium intake to avoid Hypocalcemia. Another cause of Hypocalcemia is hormonal changes. This happens especially in women due to childbearing or ageing. The typical symptom of Hypocalcemia includes growing weak nails and bones that easily fracture or break. Other symptoms include muscle spasms, fatigue, depression and abnormal heart rate.

Note that the lack of vitamin D and Calcium have been recorded as significant causes of rickets and osteoporosis. So, it is essential for adults and pregnant mothers to:

  • Eat more foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Take daily calcium and vitamin D supplements.

Calcium-Rich Foods

Rich sources of calcium include:

  • Milk, cheese, Yoghurt, Ice cream and other dairy foods
  • Green leafy vegetables – such as curly kale, okra and spinach
  • Fortified drinks like soya drinks with added calcium.
  • Bread and anything made with fortified flour.
  • Bony fishes like sardines and pilchards.
  • Other foods like beans, sweet potatoes.

Calcium Supplement Side-Effects 

All nutrients have side effects when taken in excess quantity. Taking calcium supplements must be modulated to avoid an overdose which could be harmful to health. Today, a situation of excess calcium intake into the body is called "Hypercalcaemia." It is caused by consuming high amounts of dairy products or calcium supplements. Hypercalcaemia is still a rare condition in the world. However, it is advisable to stay cautious while taking calcium from diet and supplement.

Hypercalcaemia can cause serious health problems, like:

  • Poor kidney function (passing a lot of urine)
  • Poor appetite
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Constipation and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and bone pain

Why You Need both Vitamin D and Calcium

Eating calcium-rich food is very vital for the growth of strong bones and teeth. However, our body cannot absorb calcium into our bloodstream without the presence of vitamin D. For this reason, Vitamin D is very primary if we wish to make the best from our calcium diet. Luckily, our body produces Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. However, during winter or a cold season when the days are short, and the sun is low, vitamin D deficiency could be a problem. Therefore, it is advised to take a vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms per day to forestall the risk of deficiency.

Michael Yeung
Author: Michael Yeung

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