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Essential Minerals 7: Calcium

Calcium is a mineral that most of us associate with strong bones and teeth. This article takes a closer look at the role it plays in our bodies and the best ways to keep your levels under control.

What it does

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. 99% of our calcium is stored in the teeth and bones, but the other 1% also plays an important role in important bodily processes. Calcium plays a role in muscle contraction, blood clotting, cell membrane function and regulating certain enzyme activity.

The NHS recommends that adults get 700mg of calcium per day. For children, the amount is a bit less (between 350 - 500mg), while for adolescents it is a bit higher (800mg for boys and 1000mg for girls). This goes up to 1250mg for breastfeeding mothers and women who are past the menopause. People with Coeliac disease or Osteoporosis are advised to aim for 1000mg per day. It should be possible to achieve this through a well balanced diet. However, despite recommending these high levels of calcium, it is important to understand that calcium deposits are major contributors (and even possibly causative) in many conditions including kidney stones, coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis as well as Alzheimer’s disease, gallstones, osteoarthritis and more.

Calcium and the bones

Due to the fact that there is as much as a 30% increased risk of myocardial infection for those taking high doses of elemental calcium (500 mg or more), the use of calcium supplements to “prevent” osteoporosis needs to be reconsidered. It is important to understand that bone formation, strength and maintenance, require vitamin D to help with the absorption and use of calcium, vitamin K2 to direct calcium to the bones, silicon, boron, vitamin C, manganese and zinc. In fact vitamin K2 is needed to bind calcium into the matrix and without it, excess calcium can lead to coronary calcification.

Good sources of calcium

One of the best ways of achieving healthy bones is to eat a diet rich in fresh whole foods. Despite the belief that dairy is the best source of calcium, the body actually uses calcium correctly if it is plant-derived. Good sources of calcium include spinach, mustard greens, dark green leafy vegetables and turnip greens. Sesame seeds are another good source of calcium. Raw, organic, unpasteurised dairy is a good source of calcium but know that the process of pasteurisation renders most of the calcium in the milk insoluble and difficult to absorb.

Signs that you may be deficient

Here are some of the most common symptoms of a calcium deficiency. If you think that you may be deficient, please contact your GP or qualified nutritional therapist, who will be able to perform a blood test to accurately check your levels.

  • Tooth decay

  • High blood pressure

  • Bone fractures and brittle bones

  • Indigestion

  • Pins and needles

  • Irritable mood

  • Tiredness

  • Kidney stones

  • Heart issues

  • Muscle tension

How to meet your calcium quota

It should be possible to achieve your calcium quota with a well-managed diet, although this can become difficult for people with certain dietary requirements, especially vegans, breastfeeding mothers and people with coeliac disease. These groups should be especially vigilant and make sure to have their levels checked by a GP or qualified nutritional therapist. In the event of a deficiency, it may be necessary to take a supplement.

Some other foods that are rich in calcium include:

  • Sardines - 1 cup = 57% rda

  • Natural Yoghurt - 1 cup = 30% rda

  • Milk - 1 cup = 28% rda

  • Almonds - 1 cup = 27% rda

  • Cheese - 1 slice = 20% rda

  • Kale - 1 cup = 9% rda

  • Okra - 1 cup = 8% rda

  • Broccoli - 1 cup = 4% rda

The bigger picture

If you have been following this series of articles, you will be well aware of how the vitamins and minerals in our body support each other and that a correct balance of each is necessary in order for proper functioning of the body. Calcium is no different in this respect. As mentioned above, calcium requires sufficient levels of magnesium so that it can be absorbed by your body. The symptoms of a calcium deficiency can often mask an underlying magnesium deficiency, and vice versa. [This article takes a closer look at the role of magnesium in your body][1]. Vitamins D and K play a role in calcium absorption, highlighting the importance of a balanced and varied diet that covers as many nutrients as possible.

Supplementing with calcium

Whenever possible, I always advise a dietary solution to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This is particularly true with calcium as evidence indicates that taking calcium in a daily supplement form is less effective than spreading your intake throughout the day and may even have some harmful consequences. However, in some cases, such as mentioned above, it may be difficult or impossible for a person to maintain their daily levels of calcium. In these cases, a calcium supplement may be required. Please do not begin a course of supplements without consulting your GP, or a qualified nutritional therapist and always use these in addition to a well balanced diet, rather than as a replacement.

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