What is Calcium?
Calcium is the most abundant metal found on Earth. It is the fifth most common element found in the human body. Calcium ion is very essential for many physiological and biochemical processes in organisms and cells. Calcium ions act as an electrolyte and play an important role in muscular, skeletal, nervous, circulatory and digestive systems. These functions include
- Nerve conduction processes
- Neurotransmitter release from neurons
- Contraction of all muscle cells
- Cofactors in many enzymes for digestion
- Bone and teeth formation
- Function of blood cells (clotting)
How does our body use the calcium?
Calcium ions form stable compounds by combining with other elements. Calcium citrate, malate, and lactate are highly bioavailable forms of calcium. Calcium is absorbed by the intestine as the free ion. Kidneys regulate the plasma calcium levels. Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium. Vitamin K2 helps in the proper utilisation of calcium.
How much calcium do you need in your diet?
Men, women and children require different amounts of calcium through out their lives. The recommended daily dose of calcium are as follows
Birth to 6 months——————- 200 mg
7 to 12 months———————- 250 mg
Children 1 to 3 years—————- 700 mg
4 to 8 years————————- 1000 mg
9 to 13 years———————— 1300 mg
14 to 18 years———————– 1300 mg
Adults 19 to 50 years—————- 1000 mg
Adult men 51 to 70—————— 1000 mg
Adult women 51 to 70————— 1200 mg
Adults over 70———————- 1200 mg
pregnant and breastfeeding teens— 1200 mg
Pregnant and breastfeeding women- 1000 mg
The total calcium should not exceed 2000mg per day. Since vitamin D is required with calcium, it’s daily dose has to be adjusted accordingly. The recommended daily dose of vitamin D is 600 IU per day. Total vitamin D should not exceed 4000 IU per day.
What are the best sources of calcium?
Since your body does not produce calcium, you have to include food rich in calcium in your diet.
- Dairy products are the best sources of calcium. Milk, cheese, yogurt and buttermilk, whey are rich in calcium. They contain a form of calcium that is readily absorbed by your body.
- Dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale, collards, spinach, rhubarb, mustard greens, turnip greens and Chinese cabbage.
- Fish with edible soft bones like salmon and sardines, crab, bombil.
- Almonds, Brazil nuts and figs
- Poppy seeds, celery, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, tahini (sesame paste), lentils and dried beans.
- Blackstrap molasses.
- Finger millet, horse gram, french beans, moth beans and bengal gram.
- Calcium fortified foods like orange juice, soy milk, tofu and some ready to eat cereals.
What is calcium deficiency?
When your body does not get the required amounts of calcium, then the condition is called deficiency. Low calcium intakes do not have an immediate effect. In the long run, low levels of calcium in the blood can cause low bone mass ( osteopenia ) and increases the risk of osteoporosis. This is because the body tries to maintain the blood calcium levels by taking calcium from the bones. Osteoporosis causes painful bone fractures especially the bones of the hip and back. Deficiency in children may lead to stunted growth.
Who is at risk of developing calcium deficiency? Lactose intolerant individuals, Post menopausal women, and vegans who ignore their diets.
Other symptoms of serious calcium deficiency include
- Numbness and tingling in the fingers
- Abnormal heart rhythms, can lead to death if not rectified
What is calcium toxicity?
Calcium toxicity occurs when a large amount of calcium and vitamin D are consumed together. Toxicity can happen in people receiving calcium through IV. Too much calcium in diet can cause
- Reduced iron and zinc absorption
- Stomach discomfort
- Kidney stones
- May cause increased risk of prostrate cancer and heart disease.
However, calcium toxicity is rare as our intestines limit the body absorption of calcium.
What is calcium supplement?
When you cannot get the required daily dose of calcium in your diet, calcium supplements are prescribed by your health care provider. The two main forms of calcium dietary supplements are the carbonate and citrate. The carbonate is the cheapest form and is best absorbed when taken with food. The citrate form is more expensive and is better absorbed on an empty or full stomach. This may be recommended for people with lower levels of stomach acid ( generally above 50 years of age ). The other forms of calcium supplements are the gluconate, lactate and phosphate.
Calcium is best absorbed when taken in a dose of 500 mg at one time. If you need a higher dosage, say 1000mg, it is better to split the intake to two instalments.
Who needs calcium supplements?
Not every one needs calcium supplements. You should not take the supplements if you have a condition called hypercalcemia (excess calcium in your blood). You are required to take if
- You are a vegan
- You have lactose intolerance and cannot have dairy products
- You consume high amounts of protein and sodium. These can cause increases calcium excretion from your body.
- You are at risk of osteoporosis
- You on long term corticosteroids
- You have certain digestive diseases the limit the absorption of calcium.
Some calcium supplements are combined with vitamin D or magnesium. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about the right kind of supplement. Calcium supplements may cause gas, bloating or constipation in some of you. At such times, you can try
- Spreading the dose over the day
- Having it with food
- Changing the brand
- Changing the form of calcium
- The amount required for you
- Your tolerability and absorption of the medication
- Interaction with other medications that you take
- Quality and cost of brands
- The form of calcium as in capsules, tablets, chews, liquids or powders that suit you best.