What is Calcium
Did you know that you have more calcium in your body than any other mineral? Yet at the same time, it is the same mineral most likely to be inadequately supplied in the normal diet.
The bones and teeth make up approximately 99% of the body’s calcium. The remaining 1% is used for various functions in the body such as muscle contraction and blood clotting.
Calcium is required for normal growth and maintenance of bones and teeth. Dietary requirements have to be met throughout a lifetime and are greatest during periods of growth, i.e. childhood, pregnancy and when breastfeeding.
Absorption of calcium in the intestine is regulated by Vitamin D. Individuals with problems absorbing vitamin D tend to have poor calcium absorption.
Despite being a ‘must-have’ mineral, the body does not manufacture calcium and it is lost via bodily excretions such as urine, faeces and sweat, or shed in skin, hair and nails every day. If the diet fails to adequately maintain calcium levels, it will be taken from the bones’ stores.Bone density will then fall resulting in reduced bone strength.
Recommended Daily Intakes
|Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes (mg/day)||Males||Females|
|0 – 6 months||200 mg *AI|
|6 – 12 months||260 mg *AI|
|1 – 3 years||700 mg|
|4 – 8 years||1000 mg|
|9 – 13 years||1300 mg|
|14 – 18 years||1300 mg|
|19 – 50 years||1000 mg|
|51 – 70 years||1000 mg||1200 mg|
|70 years and above||1200 mg|
|Pregnant and lactating women 14-18 years||NA||1300 mg|
|Pregnant and lactating women 19-50 years||1000 mg|
An Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) is the average daily nutrient intake level estimated to meet the requirements of half of the healthy individuals in a group. If sufficient scientific evidence is not available to establish an EAR, and thus calculate an RDA, an AI is usually developed. For healthy breastfed infants, an AI is the mean intake. Mg refers to milligrams.
Calcium Deficiency: Risks & Symptoms
Calcium deficiency is likely to go unnoticed for several years as the bones will continue to release calcium in the blood if the dietary intake is low. This helps to maintain normal blood levels.
Symptoms of calcium deficiency include:
- bone pain
- pins and needles in the hands and feet
- muscle cramps and twitching
- convulsion and osteoporosis
Calcium deficiency over a long period of time can lead to osteoporosis – whereby the bones weaken and result in an increased risk of fractures. The bones may crumble, leading to a loss of height. If left untreated, calcium deficiency can result in death.
It is vital to obtain sufficient calcium during childhood. Otherwise, it will result in reduced bone mass and increased the risk of osteoporosis later in life. Signs and symptoms of a calcium deficiency during childhood include:
- muscle weakness
- stunted growth
- muscle cramps and twitching
If left untreated, a childhood deficiency of calcium may be fatal.
There are 4 types of bone disorders in relation to calcium
- Softening and weakening of bones in adults
- Due to bone’s failure to absorb calcium
- Affects children
- Retarded growth, joint malformation, swelling and tenderness at bone ends
- Bowed legs, spinal curvature and chest-bone malformations
- Lower than average bone density
- Considered a precursor to osteoporosis
- Loss of bone density, leaving bones brittle and prone to fracture.
- Occurs without symptoms and usually diagnosed after a bone is fractured in a fall or a vertebra collapse, leading to back pain
Groups at Risk of Calcium Inadequacy
Adult bone mass is determined by the amount of bone formed during childhood, with accumulation – known as peak bone mass.Peak bone mass is complete around age of 30 and influenced by several factors: 80% genetic, while 20-40% is environmental.
Bone mineral density (BMD) is used to determine the risk of fractures by detecting osteoporosis.It measures the amount of calcium and minerals present in your bone. Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) is commonly used to measure an individual’s bone mineral density (BMD) of the spine, hip, wrist and fingers.
For those concerned about whether the test will be painful, rest assured that scanning is non-invasive and only takes a couple of minutes. Being a sensitive and accurate test of bone density, the results (T-score) will be used to determine if an individual is at risk of osteoporosis.
A patient’s BMD will be given the T-score:
Diet & lifestyle
A diet which is consistently low in calcium and vitamin D is one of the major risk factors for bony disorders. Smoking and high alcohol consumption, often accompanied by poor nutrition and lack of physical activity (lack of exposure to sun) are associated with low bone density.
Disorders relating to the bone and joints are more common among middle-aged and older adults. Asian and Caucasian women over the age of 65 have a particularly high risk of developing osteoporosis. However, women of African origin tend to have a higher bone mass than Caucasians and thus a lower risk.
Osteoporosis is more commonly found in women since they have less bone mass to begin with. Women who have short intervals between pregnancies or several children are at increased risk of osteoporosis.
Post-menopausal women are part of the vulnerable group. This is because the levels of oestrogen which is required to retain calcium in bones decrease after menopause. Hence, this drop in oestrogen level increases their risk of osteoporosis.
A family history of low bone mass increases an individual’s risk of developing osteoporosis by 50%-85%.
12 Foods that are extremely rich in Calcium
1.5 ounces of Swiss cheese or Mozzarella will provide you with 300 mg of calcium. Another reason to add more to your pizza toppings!
An 8-ounce glass of milk gives you 300 mg of calcium. Take 2-3 cups a day, and complement with calcium-containing snacks such as almonds.
6 ounces of yogurt provides 300 mg of calcium. When purchasing yogurt, look out for the ingredient list on whether there is sugar added. Make sure to purchase the ones with live bacteria culture.
Calcium-fortified soy milk or almond milk for individuals with lactose intolerance. Just be aware that those kinds of milk have only one gram of protein, while a serving of milk has eight grams of protein, so you may need to add protein.
Whitebait and sardines
Not all fish bones are inedible. For those that have been picking out and throwing away sardine bones, 3 ounces of sardines with bones consumed will easily increase your calcium intake by 200 mg.
Yes, you heard it right. Orange! Aside from containing lots of vitamin C, one medium-sized orange will provide 50mg of calcium! Bet you didn’t know that. Calcium-fortified orange juice is a good alternative for convenience – 261mg in 1 serving.
¼ cup of cooked turnip greens will provide you with 100mg of calcium. Obtain at least 3 out of 5 color groups every day to ensure an abundance of antioxidants. Always opt for variety.
The 5 color groups of fruits and vegetables are:
1 medium sized baked sweet potato contains 50mg calcium. Additionally, individuals with hypertension shouldconsume sweet potato to increase their potassium intake. Potassium counteracts sodium and thus aids in reducing blood pressure.
¼ cup of almonds provides 100 mg of calcium. Healthy fats and calcium in a power-packed snack.
1.2 servings of tofu give you the same amount of absorbable calcium as a glass of milk.
One of the best plant sources of calcium is kale. 2 cups of raw kale offers 201 mg of calcium. The best part? Calcium in kale is more bioavailable than that of milk. This means that the body will be able to absorb calcium better from kale.
Bioavailability refers to the degree to which a nutrient can be absorbed and utilized by the body.
1 tablespoon of sesame seeds delivers 88 tasty mg of calcium.
Top 12 Health Benefits of Calcium
You already know it, calcium is crucial for strong bones and teeth, and it is especially important for children and young adults to have sufficient calcium stores.
Interesting tip: Peak bone mass refers to the maximum amount of bone an individual can have during a lifetime. This typically occurs around the early 20s for both genders, although some studies claim that it occurs around 30 years old.
This also means that if you do not have sufficient calcium stores by this age, you are at a high risk for developing osteoporosis later in life. Fracture sites usually affect the hip, wrist and/or spine and render one dependent upon long-term nursing care.
Do not wait till it’s too late to start increasing your calcium intake.
It is advisable to increase calcium intake during pregnancy as it is not only required for the sustenance of the body, but also for the ideal growth and development of the baby.If calcium is insufficient, the baby will be forced to obtain the calcium required from the mother’s stores. This will increase the mother’s risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
Preeclampsia is a serious medical condition in which a pregnant woman develops hypertension and proteinuria, usually after 20 weeks’ gestation.
Calcium may reduce blood pressure by acting as a mediator in the constriction and relaxation of blood vessels. Similarly, calcium is essential for muscle contraction and relaxation.
Several professional organizations recommend calcium supplements during pregnancy for women with low calcium intakes to reduce the risk of preeclampsia.
Reduce occurrence of kidney stones
The right amount of calcium intake by the body safeguards you against painful kidney stones that can wreak havoc on the kidneys’ lining.
Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease
Calcium can play a crucial role in preventing the occurrence of chronic illnesses.
Prevent hormones abnormalities
Calcium aids in stabilizing the hormone levels in the body. With a calcium rich diet, your body regulates the hormones such as adrenal, thyroid and others efficiently.
Certain clotting enzymes in the blood require calcium in order to work properly.
Calcium has been found to help weight loss by increasing the fat breakdown and decreasing fat production.
When calcium intake is low, calcitriol, a hormone involved in calcium metabolism, increases to help conserve calcium in the body. However the downside is that calcitriol causes fat cells to expand and increase fat stores in the body.
Cancer of colon and rectum
Most studies have suggested that the consumption of calcium confers a protective effect. Higher calcium intakes from low-fat dairy sources and/or supplements are associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer.
Note that low-fat products should not be provided to kids younger than 2 years of age.
Calcium and vitamin D acts as the chief transporter of nutrients between cells. This means that on top of providing the basic support for the skeletal structure, calcium also ensures that each cell receives the nutrients to replicate and grow.
Prevent skin damage
Deficiency of calcium causes the appearance of whitish spots on the face and skin.
Is Dairy the best source of Calcium
When it comes to calcium sources, one of the first thoughts are dairy products. However, this does not mean that dairy is the only source of calcium. Calcium can be found in other foods such as kidney beans and kale. It is important to have a variety of nutrients in a diet in order for it to be healthy and effective, especially so for vegans and athletes.
Will there be any side effects if I take too much Calcium?
Increased calcium for a short period of time does not normally lead to side effects. Consuming too much calcium can lead to hypercalcemia – whereby the blood calcium level is above normal.
Is it advisable to take Calcium Supplements?
Supplements are only advisable if you are suffering from deficiencies of any kind or if your doctor/dietitian has prescribed them as necessary.There are several forms of calcium supplements available on the market such as calcium carbonate and calcium citrate; each bearing its own pros and cons in terms of price,
There are several forms of calcium supplements available on the market such as calcium carbonate and calcium citrate; each bearing its own pros and cons in terms of price, rate of absorption or whether it can be taken by itself or with meals. Instances of gastrointestinal side effects such as bloating, constipation, or a combination of these symptoms as a result of consuming calcium supplements have been reported.One may consider spreading out the dose throughout the day and/or having the supplement accompanied by meals to reduce the occurrence of side effects.
Instances of gastrointestinal side effects such as bloating, constipation, or a combination of these symptoms as a result of consuming calcium supplements have been reported.One may consider spreading out the dose throughout the day and/or having the supplement accompanied by meals to reduce the occurrence of side effects.Myth: It is a must to consume supplements in order to stay healthy.
Myth: It is a must to consume supplements in order to stay healthy.
Answer: No, supplements as what it’s named, are ‘supplementary/complementary’ in nature and meant as an addition to a normal, healthy diet. The best way for the body to obtain nutrients is via real food. There is no way having a supplement can guarantee you good health if you do not consume proper foods.
The Tolerable Upper Limits (ULs) for calcium established by the Food and Nutrition Board refer to the highest level of nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects for almost all individuals in the general population. As intake increases above the UL, the risk of adverse effects increases.
Simple tips on how to increase your Calcium intake NATURALLY
- Increase intake of green leafy vegetables
Around 4 cups of cooked leafy vegetables will help you to meet your daily recommended intake of calcium. Cook foods in the least amount of water for the shortest possible time to retain more calcium in the foods you eat.
- Increase intake of lactose
This method works for individuals that are non-lactose intolerant. Lactose helps the body to increase the absorption of calcium.
- Watch out for calcium leaches
For the coffee lovers, caffeine can leach small amounts of calcium from your body if overconsumed.Note that the recommended daily intake of caffeine is 300mg. This means no more than 3-4 cups of coffee a day. If consumed in moderation, caffeine will not have a significant effect on bone health.
- Consume canned salmon or sardine bones
Sardines contain tiny bones that are soft yet rich in calcium. To top it off, they are also an excellent source of vitamin D, which aid in calcium absorption. 2 benefits in 1 product!
- Get some nuts
Nuts such as almonds are a great source of calcium. What’s more is that they contain healthy unsaturated fats, essential to increase the good cholesterol levels. Pack some almonds as a snack to help tide through hunger at work!
- Get sunshine
Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption. In other words, without Vitamin D in your body, calcium present will not be optimally absorbed. Aim to get 20-30 minutes of sunshine daily, at least twice a week.
Note that individuals with paler skin will require less sun exposure as compared to those with darker skin. In the elderly, the recommended sun exposure may not be sufficient since ageing affects the skin’s ability to convert sunlight into vitamin D efficiently.
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