Calcium: the miracle mineral

Calcium is a master element, which offers a host of health benefits including strong bones and teeth

Calcium: the miracle mineral products

The human body requires more calcium than any other mineral. Calcium is a mineral that, even before birth, plays a significant role in almost all our body functions, including the development and health of our teeth and bones. Total amount of calcium required in a day is 1,000mg for adults, 1,300-1,500mg for women with low oestrogen or passing the phase of menopause.

The role calcium plays

Besides maintaining the rigid structure of the skeleton, Calcium is vital for normal contraction of muscles and heart; normal nervous activity; and proper utilisation of phosphorus and vitamins like A, C and D.

Calcium is also one of the 'buffers' in blood that helps maintain the levels of acid and alkalies. It aids in the process of blood clotting and stimulates enzymes in the digestive process.

Calcium-rich nutrients

Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, found in fish and olive oils and flaxseeds [if taken in large doses], increases absorption of calcium from the gut. The Omega fatty acids reduce the calcium loss in urine and abnormal deposition of it in soft tissue while increasing calcium levels in bones.

Calcium can bind to oxalic acid to form oxalates and thus become unavailable in the body. Food preparation techniques like blanching help increase the bioavailability of this mineral.

Dipping the green veggies in boiling water removes considerable amount of oxalate [as oxalate is highly water-soluble], while retaining the desired mineral.

According to researches, chewing betel leaves with slaked lime [calcium hydroxide] increases our calcium intake, which is then utilised by the body.

Milk and milk products like curds, paneer, cheese, and buttermilk are the most important sources of calcium in readily available form. One litre of cow's milk contains 0.12 per cent of calcium.

Cereals and pulses like ragi [nachni], soybeans, and whole horse gram [Kulthi or kuleeth] are rich in calcium. Calcium is also abundantly found in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, fenugreek leaves, broccoli, colocasia leaves [arbi ke patte] and agathi.

Nuts and seeds like apricots, dried figs, sesame seeds and black currants too are good sources of calcium.

Shrimps [small, dried], fishes like sardines [with bones], chela and parsey [dried] are some calcium rish fish sources.

Soy-based beverages or tofu, canned salmon, calcium-fortified juices and cereals are good options for lactose intolerant people.

Fortified orange juice contains approximately 320mg/cup, while calcium-fortified cereals contain 200mg/cup of calcium.

Calcium deficiency symptoms

Paleness, getting tired easily, joint pains, heart palpitations and muscle cramps are some common symptoms seen in calcium-deficient individuals.

Sweating around the head even during cold weather is the most obvious symptom of calcium deficiency.

Children deficient in calcium, fail to develop strong bones. They tend to suffer from frequent indigestion and diarrhoea. They may also suffer from delayed and defective teething or have enlarged heads.

Dangers of calcium deficiency

Deficiency of this vital mineral can cause various conditions like osteomalacia, osteoporosis, and rickets. If levels drop beyond a certain limit, a condition called Tetany [causes tremors and involuntary contractions of the muscles] may also occur.

Hormones affect the calcium levels in the blood and few know that calcium deficiency can also lead to insomnia.

So if you are finding it difficult to fall sleep at night, having calcium tablets with a glass of milk once a day may help.

Proper supplementation

It is difficult to keep up with our essential nutrient requirements. Hence, supplementation may be required. But merely popping a pill is not enough. You also need to pay attention to what you eat and drink around supplement ingestion, as it can help or hinder its absorption into the body.

Avoid eating chocolates, spinach, kale, wheat germ, and caffeinated drinks like tea or coffee, 30 minutes before and after taking the supplement; it caffiene may decrease the absorption of the mineral.

Consume enough fluid everyday, as an adequate liquid intake is necessary for calcium supplements to dissolve in our system.

Divide the daily supplementation in minimum two doses.

Avoid bedtime doses to stay away from heartburn or acidity.

Avoid taking supplements on your own. Consult a physician before starting calcium supplements, particularly if you are on any medication. Calcium supplements can be involved in drug interactions with some medications.

And your physician can assess if they are good for you or can have any side-effects, and provide alternatives.

Calcium nutrition for women

Calcium plays a very important role in a woman's life at every stage of her life—adolescence, pregnancy, lactation or menopause.

This is because these stages are are critical in a woman's life, during which it is vital for a woman to ensure that her intake of calcium through food and/or supplements is adequate and meets the recommended requirements.

During pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, a woman's body needs more calcium in order to meet the requirements for bone mineralisation in the foetal skeleton.

Adequate calcium intake during this period helps to normalise blood pressure, decrease the likelihood of premature birth and lower the suffering of painful labour.

In the early 40s when women go through menopause, there is a rapid loss of bone due to oestrogen deficiency and this process may last from 4–8 years after menopause. In fact, after menopause, it is not uncommon for women to lose up to five per cent of their bone mass every year.

This creates a state of potential calcium loss in the blood, and the body compensates for this by drawing calcium out of the bones, thus increasing the risk of osteoporosis and arthritis.

Now that you know important calcium it is to our body, whether you are a woman or a man, take care to maintain proper calicium levels in your body to keep it functioning at optimum levels.

Ideal calcium intake

Groups Calcium intake [mg/day]
Infants [0- 12months] 500mg
Children [ 1 – 5 years] 400mg
School-going children [6 – 10 years] 600mg
Teenagers [11- 18 years] 600mg
Pregnant / breastfeeding women [21- 35years] 1000mg
Menopausal women [> 40 years] 1300–1500mg
Men [adult] 400mg

Calcium facts

  • About 99 per cent of the body's calcium is stored in our bones and teeth.
  • Excess caffeine and salt in the diet harms bone health.
  • Extra calcium does not increase bone strength, it just makes the kidneys work harder to get rid of the excess, leading to kidney stones. Do not exceed 2,000mg a day.
  • Taking supplements without having the need to, leads to constipation and stomach ache.
  • For improving the absorption of calcium in the body, consume vitamin D in adequate amounts. Sources of vitamin D include: fortified soy milk, high- fat fish like salmon and mackerel, egg yolks, oysters and sunlight.
  • The maximum amount [99 per cent] of the body's calcium is stored in the bones and teeth.
  • Bone loss due to calcium deficiency can be slowed down any time, it's never too late to do that.

More than what meets the eye

Recent research demonstrates the benefits of calcium over and above the ones that are known to all.

Weight loss

Michael Zemel, PhD, a researcher at the University of Tennessee, reported that because a diet low in calcium literally stockpiles fat cells while higher calcium diets depletes them since calcium plays a key role in metabolic disorders linked to obesity and insulin resistance. Dr Zemel also discovered that a high-calcium diet released a hormone, which sends signals that instruct body fat cells to lose weight.

PMS

According to Susan Thys-Jacobs, an endocrinologist at St Luke-Roosevelt Hospital, calcium supplementation can relieve the physical and emotional toll of PMS by almost 50 per cent.

Blood pressure

A 13-year study by James Dwyer at the University of Southern California School of Medicine found that consuming 1300mg of calcium a day reduced hypertension risk by 12 per cent compared to consuming only 300mg per day. Subjects under age 40 reduced their risk by up to 25 per cent.

Cholesterol

According to Dr Margo Denke, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, a high-calcium regimen reduced levels of total cholesterol by six per cent and reduced bad LDL cholesterol by 11 per cent.

Stroke

A Harvard study reported that calcium supplementation protects against stroke in middle-aged women.

Colon cancer

Dr Martin Lipkin, a professor of medicine at Cornell University, who first discovered the link between calcium and colorectal cancer, says that calcium may protect against growths that become malignant in those prone to colorectal cancer.

— Team CW

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Deepshikha Agarwal
Deepshikha Agarwal is a Mumbai-based dietician and sports nutritionist. She writes nutrition-related columns in newspapers and conducts corporate workshops. She also teaches and conducts lectures on diet and wellness isues.

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