4% of the body is made from minerals; they are important for body functions including bone structure and regulating cellular chemistry. Calcium is one of macro-minerals which we need relatively large amounts each day, and it is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Calcium is used by almost every cell in the body and it is crucial to consume enough calcium in our diet to maintain many functions such as development and maintenance of bone structure.

What is calcium?

Also known as ”bone-builder”, calcium is one of the essential nutrient, accounting for nearly 3 pounds of your body weight. 99% of calcium is located in our bones and teeth, which is critical for bone and teeth health. Adequate calcium intake is necessary throughout life for building and maintaining strong bone and teeth, especially in childhood when bones are growing, and also in elders because the ability to absorb calcium is slowing down with aging.

The remaining calcium are found in the blood and soft tissues (muscles and nerves); working together with magnesium to support metabolic functions including nerve transmission, intracellular signaling, hormonal secretion, and muscle function.

Calcium deficiency is common in developing countries. Symptoms include muscle cramps or spasms, insomnia, tooth decay and osteoarthritis. Severe deficiency will lead to osteoporosis. Sufficient amount of calcium intake is important for every age group to prevent these health conditions.

Who needs more calcium?

  • Growing teenagers, need more calcium daily to maximize the strength and growth of their skeleton.

  • Calcium loss is accelerated with aging, adult over 50 requires extra calcium.

  • Athletes, pregnant and breast-feeding women requires more calcium.

  • People who smoke and drink are at risk of insufficient calcium absorption.

  • Excessive protein or salt intake will lead to calcium deficiency.

Calcium health benefits:

1. Bone health and osteoporosis

Our bones increase in strength and density from childhood until age 30. The greater the bone mass, the longer you can delay bone decay with aging. When calcium intake is low or poorly absorbed, our body will breakdown the calcium from bone to maintain metabolic functions. Therefore, we should consume adequate amounts of calcium and other supportive nutrients throughout lifetime to maintain skeletal health and prevent bone related diseases such as osteoporosis.

2. Prevention of cancer

Several studies have shown that high intake of calcium rich food could reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Calcium is associated with reduction of nonmalignant tumor in the colon which is a precursor to cancer. However, more evidence is needed for calcium supplementation is beneficial in colorectal cancer prevention.

3. High blood pressure and cardiovascular health

Researches suggested that calcium intake at recommended daily allowance maybe helpful in promoting heart health, preventing and treating moderate hypertension. Calcium could decrease absorption of fats, lower cholesterol levels in the blood, and increase lipid excretion.

4. Weight management

High dietary calcium intake has been inversely related to body weight and obesity in several studies. Few mechanisms have been proposed to explain this potential impact. Low calcium intake could stimulate the accumulation of fat in cells, conversely higher intake of calcium may stimulate the breakdown of fats, reduce fat storage, and prevent fat absorption by binding to them in digestive system.

Intake recommendation

Although dairy products are rich in calcium, the excessive hormones could affect one’s health in long term. Therefore, soy bean products and vegetables are highly recommended to have adequate intake of calcium in diet. In supplementation form, calcium citrate is the best option because it can be absorbed well on both an empty stomach and with food, and can be taken at any time.

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies developed the Adequate Intake of calcium for different age group:

Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating
0–6 months 200 mg 200 mg
7–12 months 260 mg 260 mg
1–3 years 700 mg 700 mg
4–8 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
9–13 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
14–18 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
19–50 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
51–70 years 1,000 mg 1,200 mg
71+ years 1,200 mg 1,200 mg

Best foods with calcium: Dairy products, soymilk, tofu, sardines, kale, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, white beans, spinach, almonds

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