Calcium is an essential mineral needed for our body to function normally. However, when this mineral is mentioned, we often think it's important for strong bones and teeth. But, did you know that calcium has a wider role to play than just this? It’s true! Adults must consume around 1200 to 1500 mg of calcium daily to fulfill their body’s calcium requirement and this mineral is important for many body processes. Let’s take a look!
Why Do We Need Calcium?
Wondering why calcium is essential for us? Here’s why:
It’s a well-known factor that 99% of our body’s calcium is concentrated in our bones and teeth. Calcium, along with phosphorous, is required to grow and develop both these structures. Calcium is necessary for people of all ages. Due to aging, our bone growth slows down, and we tend to lose calcium from our bones. This is particularly common with women post-menopause.
The muscles in the body bring about different kinds of movements. While voluntary muscles function based on our discretion, involuntary muscles work by themselves. Regardless of the type of muscle, they all require calcium for contraction. When a nerve stimulates a muscle, calcium enters the muscle cells and helps them contract. When calcium leaves the muscle, it causes the muscle to relax.
Ensures a healthy cardiovascular system
Calcium is vital for the body’s blood clotting mechanism. In fact, the clotting mechanism involves multiple steps, enzymes, and chemicals, including calcium. An adequate amount of calcium ensures blood clotting mechanism in the body occurs normally.
Calcium ions are also responsible for the functioning of heart muscles. Studies have shown that adequate calcium consumption can help lower blood pressure levels, which has a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system.
Cofactor in enzymes
Calcium is a co-factor for several body enzymes like the digestive enzymes, without which they cannot function properly.
Sources of Calcium
Several foods are excellent sources of calcium. It is important to note that we must consume adequate amounts of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium from food sources. Some calcium-rich foods are:
Dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese
Fortified milk like soy and tofu
Leafy greens like broccoli, turnip leaves, kale
Fortified breakfast cereals
While vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, oxalic acid found in some foods can reduce this absorption.
Effects of Consuming Less Calcium
Not consuming adequate amounts of calcium leads to a deficiency of the mineral, giving rise to a host of signs and symptoms. Calcium deficiency in the body is termed hypocalcemia. Since the body requires calcium for many functions, the effects of hypocalcemia can be widely spread to include:
Muscle problems: Muscle ache, cramps, spasms, pain while walking, tingling and numbness in the hands and legs
Skin and nail symptoms include dry skin, brittle or broken nails, coarse hair, hair loss, and dry skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Severe premenstrual syndrome
Weakened tooth roots
Increased risk of depression
Can Excessive Calcium Cause Trouble?
While reduced calcium consumption causes health issues, consuming an excess of calcium can also be harmful. Excessive calcium in the body is called hypercalcemia and is characterized by the following symptoms:
Stomach upset and frequent diarrhea
Nausea and vomiting
Bone pain and weakness
Increased risk for fractures
Confusion and lethargy
Increased risk of depression
When we think of calcium, it is natural for us to presume it’s only for our teeth and bones. But, without this mineral, our body will stop functioning normally. With an adequate amount of vitamin D and consuming calcium-rich foods, it is easy to maintain healthy calcium levels. It is advisable to get your calcium levels checked by your doctor regularly.