Calcium: What You Need To Know

Calcium is a nutrient that, including humans, all living things need. It is the body's most abundant mineral, and it is important for the health of the bone.

To build and sustain strong bones, humans need calcium, and 99 percent of the calcium in the body is in the bones and teeth. It is also important for healthy contact between the brain and other body parts to be preserved. It plays a part in the movement of muscles and cardiovascular function.

In many foods, calcium occurs naturally, and food manufacturers add it to certain products. There are also supplements available.

People often need vitamin D alongside calcium, since this vitamin helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamin D originates from fish oil, fortified dairy products and sunlight exposure.

Benefits of Calcium

Calcium is perhaps best known for the strengthening of bones and teeth. In fact, in our bodies, most of the calcium is contained in the bones and teeth. As bones undergo their normal breakdown and remodeling process, calcium, especially during growth and development, helps create new bones.

To keep your bones strong throughout your life, but particularly during childhood, when the bones are still developing, getting enough calcium is crucial. During senior years, when bones begin to break down faster than they can regenerate, it is also necessary. Older bones, a disorder called osteoporosis, become more fragile and easily broken.

In many other body functions, calcium also plays an important role, including:

  • Blood clotting

  • Blood vessel function

  • Hormone release

  • Muscle contraction

  • Nerve signal transmission

There is also some early evidence that calcium could lower blood pressure and help protect against colorectal and prostate cancers. These benefits, however, have yet to be verified in the studies.

How Much Calcium Do You Need?

The amount of calcium you need depends on your age and gender. For calcium, the recommended daily dietary allowances are:

  • 0–6 months: 200 milligrams (mg)

  • 7–12 months: 260 mg

  • 1–3 years: 700 mg

  • 4–8 years: 1,000 mg

  • 9–18 years: 1,300 mg

  • 19–50 years: 1,000 mg

  • 51–70 years: 1,000 mg for males and 1,200 mg for females

  • 71 years and above: 1,200 mg

Pregnant and breastfeeding women require 1,000–1,300 mg depending on age.

Where Should You Get Calcium?

Like every mineral, the ideal way to get calcium is from foods. The best and most visible sources are dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt. For most age groups, one 8-ounce cup of low-fat, plain yogurt contains 415 mg of calcium, more than a third of the daily recommendation. You'll get nearly 300 mg of calcium from an 8-ounce glass of non-fat milk. And 333 mg is 1.5 ounces of part-skim mozzarella.

You can still enjoy your milk even if you are lactose-intolerant by selecting one of the lactose-free or lactose-reduced dairy items available at your local supermarket. Another choice is to take drops or tablets of the lactase enzyme before consuming milk.

Some studies indicate that many people can tolerate dairy if they select low lactose foods such as hard cheeses, consume small amounts of lactose containing foods and drinks, or add dairy as an ingredient in a meal. Since dairy is the best source of calcium, to see what you can tolerate, it is worth experimenting with adding small amounts to your diet.

To Sum It Up

To build and maintain healthy bones and teeth, calcium is essential. It can also help control blood pressure, among other functions.

Via dietary sources, such as dairy products, green leafy vegetables, and tofu, it is best to obtain enough calcium. However, for certain individuals, a doctor can prescribe supplementation.

Experts do not prescribe calcium supplementation for all, due to individual variations in requirements. Anyone who is considering taking supplements should seek advice from their healthcare provider.

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