This month, we continue our year-long series on the basic vitamins and minerals necessary to good health and focus in on calcium. “Calcium for strong bones and teeth” is a phrase that all of us are familiar with. And while this is absolutely true, how many of us know that calcium also plays a key role in neuromuscular activity such as a regular heartbeat? Indeed, calcium plays an important role in the transmission of all nerve impulses in the body. Almost every part of our body, including our muscles, bones, blood and skin, depend on calcium every day. And we’re lucky that calcium is so prevalent in our modern diets, yet some “tweens” and teens are still not getting enough and this is unfortunate because they are still at an age where it matters very much how much calcium they get from their diet. Postmenopausal women should also be very aware of their calcium intake as, at this stage in life, their ability to absorb calcium begins to decline along with their bone density.
RECOMMENDED DAILY ALLOWANCE:
What Does That Look Like?
|3 oz. canned salmon, with bone|
1 cup ice cream
1 cup broccoli, cooked
1 oz. cheddar cheese, hard
1 cup dried figs
8 oz. orange juice, calcium fortified
THE FUNCTIONS OF CALCIUM IN THE BODY
Approximately 99% of the calcium in our body is stored in our bones and teeth, making up part of their composition. The remaining 1% can be found in intercellular fluids as calcium ions, in the blood and in our muscles. As for what calcium does for our body, that’s a very long list.
Calcium plays a key role in:
- the transmission of nerve impulses
- lowering cholesterol levels
- preventing cardiovascular disease
- keeping gums healthy
- muscular growth and contraction
- the prevention of muscle cramping
- blood clotting
- lowering blood pressure
- preventing bone loss associated with osteoporosis
- activating enzymes which break down fats
- maintaining proper cell membrane permeability (allowing substances in and out of a cell)
- keeping skin healthy
- inhibiting the absorption of lead by the body
Bones need plenty of calcium and vitamin D throughout childhood and adolescence to reach their peak strength and calcium content by about age 30. After that, bones slowly lose calcium, but people can help reduce these losses by getting recommended amounts of calcium throughout adulthood and by having a healthy, active lifestyle that includes weight-bearing physical activity.
Some studies have found that getting recommended intakes of calcium can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension). One large study in particular found that eating a diet high in low-fat and fat-free dairy products, vegetables, and fruits lowered blood pressure.
Several studies have also shown that getting more calcium helps lower body weight or reduce weight gain over time. 1
There are some factors to take into consideration when talking about calcium. For instance, calcium requires the amino acid lysine for maximum absorption by the body. Lysine can be found in foods such as cheese, eggs, fish, lima beans, milk, potatoes, red meat, soy products and brewer’s yeast. It is also available in supplement form.
Female athletes and menopausal women need greater amounts of calcium because their estrogen levels are lower. Estrogen protects the skeletal system by promoting the deposition of calcium in bone. Lower estrogen means less deposition of calcium in the bone. With female athletes, heavy exercising hinders calcium uptake, however, moderate exercise promotes it. Take your vitamin D too, as it helps with calcium uptake as well.
Even certain supplements should never be mixed. You should avoid taking calcium at the same time as an iron supplement as they will bind together and neither can be absorbed by the body properly. Too much calcium interferes with the absorption of zinc and excess zinc can interfere with calcium absorption. The best ratio for most people is 2500mg of calcium with 50mg of zinc. But, as always, check with your primary health care provider for confirmation on how much of each your situation warrants as calcium can interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications. A simple hair analysis can determine the levels of calcium and zinc (and other minerals) in your body.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A CALCIUM DEFICIENCY?
Certain groups of people are more likely than others to have trouble getting enough calcium, including:
- postmenopausal women
- women athletes
- women of childbearing age whose periods have stopped
- people with lactose intolerance, and
- vegans andovo-vegetarians
There are also factors which can affect the amount of calcium absorbed from the digestive tract, including:
- age (individuals over 70)
- lack of vitamin D intake, and
- increased intake of oxalic acid (in some vegetables and beans) and phytic acid (in whole grains) 3
Calcium deficiency can lead to:
- aching joints
- brittle nails
- elevated blood cholesterol
- heart palpitations
- muscle cramps
- numbness in the arms and/or legs,
- a pasty complexion
- rheumatoid arthritis
- rickets in children
- tooth decay
- low bone mass and increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures
WHAT CONDITIONS CAN BENEFIT FROM CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTATION?
Osteoporosis The obvious condition to begin this segment with is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is defined as the “abnormal loss of bony tissue, causing fragile bones that fracture easily…”4
Bones act as a storehouse for calcium, which is used by the body and replaced by the diet throughout a person’s life. If enough calcium is not consumed, the body takes it from the bones. If more calcium is removed from the bones than is consumed in the diet, the bones become fragile and weak as a person gets older, leading to osteoporosis and fractures.
Osteoporosis prevention begins during childhood and adolescence by getting enough exercise and the proper nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D. However, adults can help prevent osteoporosis in the same ways.
The importance of calcium in developing and maintaining bone mass varies throughout a person’s life. At times of rapid and significant bone growth (during the teenage years) or rapid bone loss (after age 50 years), calcium is more important. Therefore, to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, calcium intake should be the highest during adolescence and after age 50 years. 5
Insomnia Don’t resort to sleeping pills! There’s a better way to fall asleep. Calcium and insomnia have long been linked, ever since we, as children, were brought glasses of warm milk to help us sleep. And it’s a well-known fact that when your body is in balance, sleep occurs naturally. In order to have a well-balanced body, your nutritional choices have to meet certain standards and that includes getting enough calcium. Take your daily requirement of calcium in divided doses after meals with the last dose a few hours before bedtime.
Stress & Hypertension Stress creates an excellent breeding ground for illnesses, including cardiovascular disease. Increased adrenaline production in the body can lead to nutritional deficiencies as increased adrenaline production causes the body to step up its metabolism of proteins, fats and carbs to quickly produce energy. This response causes the body to store less calcium. The adrenal hormone cortisol also regulates blood pressure which we know benefits from the maintenance of the minimum requirement of calcium in the body. Stress = less calcium, which = a higher risk of hypertension.
NUTRITIONAL SOURCES OF CALCIUM
- Dairy foods
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Blackstrap molasses
- Brewer’s yeast
- Figs and prunes
Herbs, such as alfalfa, cayenne, chamomile, chicory, dandelion, flaxseed, lemongrass, paprika, parsley, peppermint, raspberry leaves, rose hips and fennel seed.
NUTTERS CAN SUGGEST…
Calcium is required for strong bones, teeth and cardiovascular function and calcium citrate may be the preferred form of calcium for those with low stomach acid. As well as protecting the body from stress, magnesium works with calcium to provide help to these same body systems and participates in more than 50 different biochemical reactions. The other minerals, including manganese, potassium and zinc, are also in the citrate form for better absorption and utilization by the cells, and they provide a valuable contribution to bone strength.
1. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Government
2. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Fourth Edition, Phyllis A. Balch, CNC
3. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Government
4. Barron’s Dictionary of Medical Terms
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.