What is Calcium?
Calcium is an important component of a healthy diet and a mineral necessary for life. The National Osteoporosis Foundation says, "Calcium plays an important role in building stronger, denser bones early in life and keeping bones strong and healthy later in life." Approximately 99 percent of the body's calcium is stored in the bones and teeth. The rest of the calcium in the body has other important uses, such as some exocytosis, especially neurotransmitter release, and muscle contraction. In the electrical conduction system of the heart, calcium replaces sodium as the mineral that depolarizes the cell, proliferating the action potential. In cardiac muscle, sodium influx commences an action potential, but during potassium efflux, the cardiac myocyte experiences calcium influx, prolonging the action potential and creating a plateau phase of dynamic equilibrium. Long-term calcium deficiency can lead to rickets and poor blood clotting and in case of a menopausal woman, it can lead to osteoporosis, in which the bone deteriorates and there is an increased risk of fractures. While a lifelong deficit can affect bone and tooth formation, over-retention can cause hypercalcemia (elevated levels of calcium in the blood), impaired kidney function and decreased absorption of other minerals. Several sources suggest a correlation between high calcium intake (2000 mg per day, or twice the U.S. recommended daily allowance, equivalent to six or more glasses of milk per day) and prostate cancer. High calcium intakes or high calcium absorption were previously thought to contribute to the development of kidney stones. However, a high calcium intake has been associated with a lower risk for kidney stones in more recent research. Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium.
Dairy products, such as milk and cheese, are a well-known source of calcium. Some individuals are allergic to dairy products and even more people, in particular those of non Indo-European descent, are lactose-intolerant, leaving them unable to consume non-fermented dairy products in quantities larger than about half a liter per serving. Others, such as vegans, avoid dairy products for ethical and health reasons.
Many good vegetable sources of calcium exist, including seaweeds such as kelp, wakame and hijiki; nuts and seeds like almonds, hazelnuts, sesame, pistachio; blackstrap molasses; beans (especially soy beans); figs; quinoa; okra; rutabaga; broccoli; dandelion leaves; kale. In addition, for some drinks (like soy milk or orange juice) it is typical to be fortified with calcium.
Numerous vegetables, notably spinach, chard and rhubarb have a high calcium content, but they may also contain varying amounts of oxalic acid that binds calcium and reduces its absorption. The same problem may to a degree affect the absorption of calcium from amaranth, collard greens, chicory greens. This process may also be related to the generation of calcium oxalate.
An overlooked source of calcium is eggshell, which can be ground into a powder and mixed into food or a glass of water.
The calcium content of most foods can be found in the USDA National Nutrient Database.
Dietary calcium supplements
500 milligram calcium supplements made from calcium carbonate
Calcium supplements are used to prevent and to treat calcium deficiencies. Most experts recommend that supplements be taken with food and that no more than 600 mg should be taken at a time because the percent of calcium absorbed decreases as the amount of calcium in the supplement increases. It is recommended to spread doses throughout the day. Recommended daily calcium intake for adults ranges from 1000 to 1500 mg. It is recommended to take supplements with food to aid in absorption.
Vitamin D is added to some calcium supplements. Proper vitamin D status is important because vitamin D is converted to a hormone in the body, which then induces the synthesis of intestinal proteins responsible for calcium absorption.
- The absorption of calcium from most food and commonly used dietary supplements is very similar. This is contrary to what many calcium supplement manufacturers claim in their promotional materials.
- Milk is an excellent source of dietary calcium for those whose bodies tolerate it because it has a high concentration of calcium and the calcium in milk is excellently absorbed.
- Soymilk and other vegetable milks are usually sold with calcium added so that their calcium concentration is as high as in milk.
- Also different kind of juices boosted with calcium are widely available.
- Calcium carbonate is the most common and least expensive calcium supplement. It should be taken with food. It depends on low pH levels for proper absorption in the intestine. Some studies suggests that the absorption of calcium from calcium carbonate is similar to the absorption of calcium from milk. While most people digest calcium carbonate very well, some might develop gastrointestinal discomfort or gas. Taking magnesium with it can help to avoid constipation. Calcium carbonate is 40% elemental calcium. 1000 mg will provide 400 mg of calcium. However, supplement labels will usually indicate how much calcium is present in each serving, not how much calcium carbonate is present.
- Antacids frequently contain calcium carbonate, and are a commonly used, inexpensive calcium supplement.
- Coral calcium is a salt of calcium derived from fossilized coral reefs. Coral calcium is composed of calcium carbonate and trace minerals.
- Calcium citrate can be taken without food and is the supplement of choice for individuals with achlorhydria or who are taking histamine-2 blockers or proton-pump inhibitors. Calcium citrate is about 21% elemental calcium. 1000 mg will provide 210 mg of calcium. It is more expensive than calcium carbonate and more of it must be taken to get the same amount of calcium.
- Calcium phosphate costs more than calcium carbonate, but less than calcium citrate. Microcrystalline Hydroxyapatite (MH) is one of several forms of calcium phosphate used as a dietary supplement. Hydroxyapatite is about 40% calcium.
- Calcium lactate has similar absorption as calcium carbonate, but is more expensive. Calcium lactate and calcium gluconate are less concentrated forms of calcium and are not practical oral supplements.
- Calcium chelates are synthetic calcium compounds, with calcium bound to an organic molecule, such as malate, aspartate, or fumarate. These forms of calcium may be better absorbed on an empty stomach. However, in general they are absorbed similarly to calcium carbonate and other common calcium supplements when taken with food. The "chelate" mimics the action that natural food performs by keeping the calcium soluble in the intestine. Thus, on an empty stomach, in some individuals, chelates might, in theory, be absorbed better.
A study investigating the effects of personal calcium supplement use on cardiovascular risk in the Women’s Health Initiative Calcium/Vitamin D Supplementation Study (WHI CaD Study) found a modestly increased risk of cardiovascular events, particularly myocardial infarction in postmenopausal women. A broad recommendation of calcium/vitamin D supplements is therefore not warranted.
This definition may contain information from Wikipedia.