Posted on Aug 1, 2018

The Function and Benefits of Calcium

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THE FUNCTION OF CALCIUM

Calcium is one of the body's electrolytes, which are minerals that carry an electric charge when dissolved in body fluids such as blood, but most of the body's calcium is uncharged.

About 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones, but cells (particularly muscle cells) and blood also contain calcium. Calcium is essential for the following:

  • Maintaining total body health
  • Normal growth and development
  • Keeping your bones and teeth strong over your lifetime
  • Ensuring the proper functioning of muscles and nerves
  • Keeping the heart beating
  • Helping blood clotting and regulating blood pressure
  • Metabolising iron
  • The action of a number of hormones (particularly those associated with the thyroid and parathyroid glands)
  • Absorbing vitamin B12

Calcium is very essential in muscle contraction, building strong bones and teeth, blood clotting, nerve impulse, transmission, regulating heart beat and fluid balance within cells. The requirements are greatest during the period of growth such as childhood, during pregnancy, when breast feeding. Long term of calcium deficiency can lead to oestoporosis in which the bone deteriorates and there is an increased rise of fractures.

We can’t talk about calcium without talking about Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become less dense and leech calcium, eventually weakening them so much that they become brittle and weak and can eventually lead to fractures and breaks. Women have to pay more attention to this than men, out of all cases 80 percent is attributed to women (menopause increases bone resorption and decreases calcium absorption), and according to the National Institutes of Health, the condition is to blame for 1.5 million bone fractures a year.

Since 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies is found in teeth and bones, the mineral is clearly important for bone health. But it’s not just good for building skeletal structure, 1% of the calcium we ingest helps keep blood vessels healthy and flexible, encourages normal muscle function and nerve transmission, and assists with balancing hormones. The bones act as a reservoir for calcium. When the amount of calcium in the blood supply dips too low, calcium is borrowed from the bones. It is returned to the bones from calcium supplied through the diet. When diets are low in the mineral, there may not be sufficient amounts available to be returned to the bones. Over time, this net loss can lead to osteopenia or osteoporosis.

Although bones undergo the biggest changes during childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, our skeletons are constantly remodeling themselves as they absorb and resorb nutrients. As infants, we can utilize about 60 percent of calcium ingested, but by adulthood that number drops to 10 to 15 percent and slowly decreases even more as we age. So it’s incredibly important to get enough calcium as a kid, and equally necessary as an adult.

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS WITH CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTS

Getting daily calcium is important, so if you don’t drink milk regularly then a supplement is a simple alternative. Right?

Not so fast. Calcium Carbonate: This is a common form of calcium which is an alkaline-based compound found in rocks, limestone, marine animal shells, pearls, eggshells and snails. It is found in many calcium supplements and is even found in antacids like Tums, Rolaids, etc. because of its alkaline nature. It is also the type of calcium found in coral calcium, which has received much attention for exaggerated health claims. There is no research to confirm that coral calcium is in fact a better form of calcium than other forms. Calcium carbonate provides one of the highest concentrations of elemental calcium (35-40%). For example, a calcium carbonate supplement contains 40% elemental calcium; this means that 1,250 milligrams (mg) of calcium carbonate will provide 500 mg of elemental calcium. This is the reason why many supplements use calcium carbonate: it gives the appearance of a high elemental calcium content and doesn’t take up much space in the capsule or tablet. Yet it has poor solubility in water and requires extra stomach acid production to be absorbed. Calcium carbonate’s bioavailability in humans has been measured as high as 40%, but also as low as 15%. Because of its low solubility, and perhaps because of its inconsistent absorption rate, it is generally considered to be one of the least bioavailable forms of calcium.

Key Takeaway: This form is great for people with excess stomach acid (although note that just because you have heartburn or ulcers doesn’t mean you have excess stomach acid!), and it is okay if you are not very concerned with how much calcium you are actually absorbing, since it can vary among individuals. Be aware that just because the label calcium content looks high doesn’t mean that’s what you’re absorbing.

SHOULD YOU TAKE A CALCIUM SUPPLEMENT?

Without knowing how much calcium you are getting in your food, taking a daily calcium supplement seems like a good idea. Plants and animals can’t make calcium, it must be absorbed into the plants from the soil or ingested by our livestock from its food supply. To make the equation even more difficult, calcium doesn’t find itself evenly spread out in the soil, so one crop of spinach might be rich in calcium and the neighboring farm might have very little. If we could check our daily calcium levels like we check the weather, then all this would be a simple exercise. Calcium is vital for the health and well-being of every human on the planet so making sure that we have enough calcium should be taken very seriously. A good quality calcium supplement with high bioavailability is a key factor in that equation.

 

before you begin a supplement regimen—or if you have any questions about whether you need more calcium—check in with your doctor.

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