The Health Benefits of Calcium
Why you need it and what to know about it
This week I planned to write a post on magnesium and its importance for athletes, but after talking to one of my clients about osteoporosis, I decided to dedicate this post to calcium:
What is Calcium?
Calcium is an essential nutrient that can’t be produced by the body and thus has to be consumed through diet (or supplements*). It is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Calcium accounts for approximately 2% of our body weight.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 1% of the calcium present in the human body is required for critical metabolic functions such as hormone secretion, vascular contraction, and vasodilation, muscle function, nerve transmission, or intracellular signaling. The other 99% is stored in bones and teeth.
In order to metabolize calcium, the body needs other nutrients such as protein, vitamin D, or phosphorus. Apart from that, the amino acid lysine helps calcium absorption. This is one reason why just taking a calcium pill can’t replace eating REAL, healthy food (you’ll find more information on supplements later on).
Why is Calcium essential for your health?
Calcium is crucial for the formation of bones and teeth. The increase in bone mass and size peaks around the age of 30, after that bone loss is part of the normal aging process. However, this process can be accelerated due to a lack of calcium and eventually lead to osteoporosis — a condition where the quality and density are significantly reduced.
Apart from that, calcium can help to prevent cardiovascular diseases by lowering cholesterol levels.
The intake of calcium-rich dairy products has also been associated with weight loss in postmenopausal women.
A lack of calcium and magnesium, on the other hand, can lead to stress and anxiety.
How much calcium do you need?
The recommended daily intake is 1000 mg for the general population, 1300 mg for teenagers, and 1200 mg for women that are 50 years or older.
What are good sources of calcium?
Foods rich in calcium include:
- Plain yogurt (415 mg per serving),
- Mozzarella (333 mg per serving)
- Milk (276–307 mg per serving)
- Salmon (181 mg per serving)
- Soy milk (299 mg per serving)
- Tofu (138–253 mg per serving)
- Cooked kale (94 mg per serving)
You can find more information on calcium on this website provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
Office of Dietary Supplements — Calcium
Calcium is a mineral found in many foods. The body needs calcium to maintain healthy bones and to carry out many…
What can reduce the absorption of calcium?
According to the American Bone Health Organisation, caffeine can hinder calcium uptake. However, the effect is so small (by about 4 mg of calcium per cup of coffee) that it can be offset by adding milk or soymilk.
Excessive consumption of magnesium, on the other hand, can decrease the absorption of calcium. Also, taking calcium together with iron supplements can prevent optimal calcium metabolism.
Apart from that, consuming a diet high in sugar or drinking alcoholic beverages can lead to calcium excretion.
Strenuous exercise can decrease calcium absorption, while moderate resistance training can promote it.
*What about calcium supplements?
I suggest to check in with your health care provider before taking calcium supplements because they can interfere with the effects of medications (e.g., with steroids or thyroid hormones).
Apart from that, an overdose of this mineral from supplements can lead to health issues such as constipation or kidney problems. Also, calcium supplements can decrease the absorption of iron and zinc.
Who is particularly at risk for calcium deficiency?
As dairy products are among the best sources of calcium, people with lactose intolerance or vegans should monitor their calcium intake and levels carefully.
Also, patients that suffer from Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease might have issues to absorb and metabolize calcium optimally.
I found that kale chips are a good source of calcium (1 serving provides you with around 100 mg). Also, I drink a lot of mineral water. Research shows that the calcium found in it has good bioavailability (i.e., can be absorbed well by the body.
However, the most delicious way to meet my RDI is indulging a soy latte on my way to work.
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In good health,