Calcium is vital for human bodies. But one needs to be in the Sun to make calcium, an essential nutrient, effective.
Humans need calcium for overall health and well being. Calcium is the most plentiful mineral present in our body. Our teeth and bones are very rich in calcium. It is also present in the nerve cells, tissues, blood, and other body fluids. Calcium also plays a part in our muscle movement and cardiovascular function. As we age, we fail to absorb the required amount of calcium from our diet. Then our body takes more and more amount for calcium from the bones and may cause osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
Why do humans need calcium?
Calcium is the most important mineral for our body. Our bone and teeth are mainly made of calcium. Most of the body calcium is lost through processing in the kidneys and colon and a minor amount is lost through the shedding of nails, hairs, skin, and also due to sweating. Calcium is required for the following bodily functions:
1. Bone Health
Our bones and teeth contain almost 99% of the calcium present in the body. Our bones grow rapidly during the adolescence period and, therefore, the teens need a sufficient amount of calcium for building strong bones to combat the loss of bone density in later life. As one reaches the adult stage, calcium helps to maintain the bones by retarding the loss of bone density.
Women have a higher risk of losing bone density, than men, due to menopause. So, they need calcium to stay healthy and avoid the risk of bone fracture. Those who smoke or drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol tend to get less calcium as these interfere with the calcium absorption system of the body. Calcium is also important to maintain healthy teeth.
2. Muscle Contraction
Calcium is also vital for regulating muscle contractions, sending signals through the nerves, and also helps in releasing hormones. When someone does not get enough calcium, the body draws the required calcium from the bones for maintaining the normal cell functions. Thus, one becomes weak.
3. Cardiovascular system
The role of calcium in muscle function is also applicable to our heart muscles. It relaxes the smooth muscles surrounding the blood vessels. The mineral enters the cells present in the heart muscles during every heartbeat and coordinates the function of the heat through electrical signals. As calcium helps to squeeze the cells together, it makes the heart pump blood. Lack of calcium is likely to cause problems in the cardiovascular system.
Calcium is essential, necessary, and vital during the pregnancy period for ensuring the proper development of bones and teeth of the baby. If you do not take enough calcium during pregnancy, calcium reserve in the body gets depleted increasing the risk of osteoporosis at a later age.
5. Other functions
Calcium helps to regulate blood pressure by helping the blood vessels tighten and relax when needed. Our blood will not clot without calcium. The calcium present in the blood helps to form fibrin. This insoluble protein forms a fibrous network that is essential for the clotting of blood. Calcium also helps to improve the immunity system, lowers down the cholesterol level, and reduces the risk of non-cancerous colorectal tumors.
How much calcium do you need?
The need for calcium varies with age. Babies and children need the most. According to the National Institute of Health, Office of the Dietary Supplements the following are the age-wise Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA).
- From birth to 6 months: 200 mg for both male and female
- From 7 to 12 months: 260 mg for both male and female
- From 1 to 3 years: 700 mg for both male and female
- From 4 to 8 years: 1000 mg for both male and female
- From 9 to 13 years: 1300 mg for both male and female
- From 14 to 18 years: 1300 mg for both male and female
- From 19 to 50 years: 1000 mg for both male and female
- From 51 to 70 years: 1000 mg for male and 1200 mg for female
- From 71+ years: 1200 mg for both male and female
Facts to know
- Although calcium is responsible for several body functions, our body does not produce calcium. So, one must take foods that are rich in calcium. Dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt, dark green vegetables like broccoli, kale, and spinach, white beans, sardines are great for this.
- Vitamin D is also needed to absorb calcium. Thus, you will not be benefited by a calcium-rich diet plan, if you are low in Vitamin D. Eggs yolks, salmon, and some mushrooms are rich in Vitamin D. You might get it through sunlight. About 15 to 20 minutes of exposure of sunlight on the face and hands usually suffice for most peoples.
- Women need calcium more during pregnancy, lactating, and at the post-menstrual stage. Lack of calcium might lead to other health issues like osteoporosis. This means you will have frail and porous bones prone fractures. This is much common in older women.
- Those who have lactose intolerance or follow a vegan lifestyle, or do not favor dairy products, can fulfill their calcium requirement through supplements. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are the most recommended supplements. One should take calcium carbonate supplements with foods for better efficacy. Calcium citrate supplements work well for older people with low stomach acid. Calcium supplements have side effects and should not be taken without medical advice.
- Too much calcium is likely to produce negative effects. Other than constipation and bloating, it may increase the risk of kidney stones and deposition of calcium in your blood.
Calcium helps you to stay healthy. One can get the amount required from dietary sources. The doctors also prescribe calcium supplements based on an individual’s requirements. As Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium, one must receive it adequately through a balanced diet and sufficient exposure to sunlight.