We need calcium to keep our bones and teeth strong and healthy. This mineral, which is the most abundant mineral in the body, also supports many other health functions.
Where do I find calcium?
Good sources include: dairy produce, fish (particularly where you eat the bones such as sardines), tofu, nuts, soya beans, leafy vegetables (although not spinach) and fortified bread. Our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium and the best source is sunlight. The National Osteoporosis Society recommends 10 minutes of sun exposure once or twice a day. The best time for sun exposure is between 11am-3pm between the months of April through to October.
Adults need 700mg of calcium a day. We store calcium in our bones and teeth (but mostly in our bones), where it gets released into the bloodstream to be used by other organs including the heart. A calcium-rich diet helps to restore calcium levels in our bones.
Why do I need calcium?
Most of us know we need calcium to regain strong teeth and bones but calcium does more than this. It’s also important for regulating muscle contractions including the heartbeat. In addition calcium helps with blood clotting.
Calcium is most associated with helping to prevent the brittle bone condition osteoporosis. Calcium, particularly in combination with vitamin D, appears to be protective in helping to prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women. Older men also benefit.
Some studies have linked calcium use to other health advantages. It may: lower blood pressure, protect against illnesses such as colon and breast cancer, regulate cholesterol and lower stroke risk. More research is needed in all these areas.
How will I know if I am lacking in calcium?
A calcium deficiency can lead to bone conditions - including rickets in children (a condition that causes the bones to become soft and malformed) and osteoporosis in older adults which renders bones brittle and liable to break.
Most people can get all they need from their diet but post-menopausal women, people on steroid medication or those who consumer large amounts of caffeine or alcohol may need to take supplements. Likewise, people with conditions such as Crohn’s disease or who have had intestinal surgery may need supplements as their bodies may struggle to absorb enough calcium naturally.
Can too much calcium be harmful?
Too much calcium causes diarrhoea and stomach pains. At very high doses it may cause kidney damage and an irregular heart rhythm. You should not exceed 1500mg of calcium a day. People with kidney failure or kidney stones should steer clear of calcium supplements.