The national “Got milk?” advertisement campaign equates calcium intake from milk, to strong bones and good overall health. Calcium is absolutely essential for bones and teeth, but they are not the only part of the body that rely on calcium.
The most abundant mineral in the body, calcium is essential for a wide range of body parts and functions. Nearly 99% of the body’s calcium is involved in the maintenance of the bones and teeth; however, calcium also regulates the heart, nerves, muscles and other bodily systems.
The body does not produce calcium, so it must be consumed through other sources. The most well-known role of calcium is in bone and teeth health. The mineral forms a part of hydroxyapatite, a complex that makes the bones and teeth hard and maintains density. Without this complex, the bones become weak and are more susceptible to breaking.
Calcium also plays an important part in the functioning of the nervous system and the muscles. Calcium in the brain regulates the release of neurotransmitters, which initiate nerve signals. If the nerves do not have the appropriate amount of calcium, chemical signals cannot be sent and disruption in functioning will occur. Additionally, muscle contractions rely on nerve stimulation to move and maintain motion. Calcium also controls the production of the protein calmodulin that delivers energy to the muscles, insulin production and disease prevention.
Calcium does not function alone. The body needs a complex variety of vitamins and minerals to support bone health as well as overall health. To aid in the absorption of calcium, the body also needs magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K, vitamin A, folic acid, vitamin B and vitamin C. Each of these vitamins and minerals plays an important role in the absorption and utilization of calcium, and in turn, the proper functioning of the body’s systems.
Vitamin D is an important co-factor in the absorption of calcium in the small intestines as it increases the number of calcium binding proteins. Vitamin D also aids calcium re-absorption in the kidneys, giving the body a second change to gain calcium.
Magnesium is also important for calcium in the bones, as it inhibits release of Calcium from the bones once it has been absorbed.
Calcium does more than just promote strong, healthy bones. This mineral supports nerve and muscle function, regulates cell communication and controls the production of insulin and other hormones. Calcium also plays an important role in preventing several health conditions.
Getting the appropriate amount of calcium may prevent or treat several conditions including:
Additionally, calcium is important for preventing other health conditions such as stroke, colon cancer, obesity, and hyperparathyroidism.
A health, middle-aged adult requires a daily intake of 1,000 milligrams of calcium. Often dietary intake supplies the recommended amount of calcium when a balanced diet is achieved.
A variety of foods including milk, yogurt, cheese, kale, broccoli, fish with soft bones and grains include an adequate amount of calcium. However, many individuals do not eat a balanced diet or may have to limit certain sources of calcium for dietary reasons.
In addition to dietary calcium, many supplements are available. Many multivitamin and multi-mineral supplements contain calcium. Additionally, supplements containing only calcium, or calcium in addition to vitamin D or Magnesium are available. Typically, a calcium supplement delivers 200 to 400 milligrams of calcium and is taken by mouth in a tablet or capsule form. The body absorbs calcium most efficiently when a dose of no more than 500 milligrams is taken at a time.
Two types of calcium supplements are generally available – carbonate and citrate. Calcium carbonate is often considered the less expensive option; however, it must typically be taken with food. Calcium citrate is the more expensive option, but it is a higher quality supplement and may be taken on a full or empty stomach. Gluconate, lactate and phosphate are other forms of calcium that may be found in paired supplements and food.
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Calcium and milk: what’s best for your bones and health? The Nutrition Source: Harvard School of Public Health. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Heller, D. Why your bones need more than calcium. Anatomy, Illness Prevention. 2012.
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