Calcium health benefits: why it’s necessary for good health

Calcium health benefits include improving bone health, lowering blood pressure and preventing kidney stones developing.

It is a mineral that serves both structural and chemical functions. Acquired from the diet, calcium is best known for its bone-building action, and also as a nerve and muscle contraction agent.

Other calcium health benefits include enzyme activation, which processes glycogen for energy metabolism and as an insulin secretion stimulant.

All but 1% of the body’s calcium is concentrated in the bones and teeth, and the rest exists in a tightly balanced concentration in the intra- and extra-cellular fluid. This then redistributes it to stimulate heart, blood vessel, intestinal and muscle contractions.

If you don’t consume enough dietary calcium, your body demineralizes bones to acquire what it needs. This is a principal cause of osteopenia and osteoporosis – bone fragility diseases that precede dangerous bone fractures in older adults.

Abnormal parathyroid and intestinal absorption diseases, such as Crohn’s or Celiac, can cause calcium deficiency and usually require calcium supplementation or increasing dietary intake.

Calcium and aging

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease that one in three women and one in five men older than 50 will experience in the form of an osteoporotic fracture.

Worldwide, osteoporosis causes a bone fracture every three seconds – or a total of 8.9 million fractures each year. In our thirties, our body forms less bone, and therefore consuming enough dietary calcium and vitamin D (which is required for calcium absorption), is essential for preventing bone demineralization and osteoporosis.

A 2009 review of 32 controlled trials found that calcium supplementation of about 1,000 mg daily markedly improved bone density for post-menopausal women for up to four years of treatment.

Cardiovascular disease

For decades cardiovascular disease has had the highest mortality worldwide compared to all other health problems.

It can have numerous causes, but one that calcium can treat is hypertension, improving blood flow and lowering the risk for cardiac arrest.

Globally, the overall prevalence of raised blood pressure in adults older than 25 years old is approximately 40%. Since calcium controls the contraction of blood vessel walls, some researchers theorize that an unbalanced blood calcium level could lead to abnormal blood vessel dilation and blood pressure. However, not all studies have been positive.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones in the form of calcium stones can form in the urinary tract. These are often as a result of oxalates (acid salts in foods such as spinach, beet greens and okra) combining with calcium. If the resulting mineral crystallization becomes large enough to block the ureters (the tubes that carry urine from the kidney to the bladder) as it travels through, medical experts consider the resulting pain to be as severe in intensity as childbirth, and requires emergency medical care.

In recent years, the incidence of kidney stones has increased and affects up to 10% of the developed world, with the highest prevalence in the aging population.

Calcium health benefits include decreasing the risk of developing kidney stones, particularly if you consume more dietary calcium concurrently with oxalate-containing foods, and particularly for those with a family or personal history, or a known calcium deficiency.

Insulin

Normal insulin functionality is particularly significant after mid-life, normalizing energy utilization, enhancing cognitive function, preventing metabolic syndrome, and lowering acute and chronic high blood glucose, which impacts the prevalence of diabetes, obesity, mental health and other health issues.

Scientists continue to study calcium’s central role in insulin sensitivity, and numerous trials have found an increased dietary intake improves condition; however, identifying the exact mechanism of calcium action will require further research.

Membrane health

Calcium health benefits also include preserving cell membrane integrity, and helping protect our DNA by slowing the progression of cancer and supporting the immune system. Taking calcium supplements or increasing dietary intake of calcium can improve the body’s capacity to support membrane health.

How can I add calcium to my diet?

Dairy sources such as milk, yogurt and cheese are the richest natural sources of calcium and are the major food contributors. Other sources include vegetables such as kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage. There is also calcium in spinach, but its bioavailability is poor.

How much calcium should I take?

Calcium is available as a supplement in several forms. Calcium carbonate is inexpensive, but requires adequate stomach acid to allow its absorption. Those with digestive issues can take gluconate lactate, malate, citrate or phosphate, as their body will more readily absorb them.

A standard dose of calcium is 1,000 mg each day for adults or 1,200 mg for women who have reached menopause. You can improve absorption by dividing the dose into two or three doses, and consuming them with food and vitamin D.

You should also consume calcium along with magnesium in a 1:2 ratio.

Limiting the dosage to 1200 mg daily, an absence of side effects and the relief of symptoms after consistent use indicate you’re taking the correct dose, but following an appropriate practitioner’s advice may be necessary to be certain.

Side effects

The following side effects have been associated with taking calcium as a supplement:

  • Constipation
  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased urination
  • Kidney damage
  • Confusion
  • Irregular heart rhythm

Contraindications

Calcium may contraindicate with the function, absorption, effectiveness or potency of the following prescription medications:

  • Cholesterol-lowering medications such as colestipol (Colestid) and cholestyramine (Questran)
  • Calcipotriene (Dovenex)
  • Bisphosphonates such as Alendronate (Fosamax) and Ibandronate (Boniva)
  • Antacids that contain aluminum
  • Gentamicin
  • Blood pressure medications such as amlodipine (Norvasc) and atenolol (Tenormin)
  • Corticosteroids (prednisone)
  • Antibiotics
  • Diuretics (water pills) such as indapamide (Lozol) and chlorothiazide (Diuril)
  • Estrogens
  • Sotalol (Betapace)
  • Thyroid hormone
  • Quinolones suxh as ciprofloxacin (Cipro) or levofloxacin (Levaquin)
  • Tetracyclines
  • Anti-seizure medications

References

  1. World Health Organization. “WHO Meeting of Experts on the Possible Protective Effect of Hard Water Against Cardiovascular Disease.” April 2006. http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/gdwqrevision/cardiofullreport.pdf
  2. University of Maryland Medical Center. “Calcium.” April 12, 2011. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/calcium-000290.htm
  3. Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center. “Calcium.” November 2011. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/calcium/
  4. Ramadan, James W., et al. Cell Calcium. “The Central Role of Calcium in the Effects of Cytokines on Beta-cell Function: Implications for Type 1 and type 2 Diabetes.” December 2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy.library.vcu.edu/science/article/pii/S0143416011001564
  5. World Health Organization. “Raised Blood Pressure.” http://www.who.int/gho/ncd/risk_factors/blood_pressure_prevalence_text/en/index.html
  6. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. “Calcium.” November 16, 2012. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/
  7. National Institutes of Health National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC). “Diet for Kidney Stone Prevention.” June 29, 2012. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/kidneystonediet/index.aspx
  8. Nordin, B.E.C. Osteoporosis International. “The Effect of Calcium Supplementation on Bone Loss in 32 Controlled Trials in Postmenopausal Women.” December 2009. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19459026
  9. Ma, Bo, et al. Journal of Epidemiology. “Dairy, Magnesium, and Calcium Intake in Relation to Insulin Sensitivity: Approaches to Modeling a Dose-dependent Association.” March 2, 2006. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/164/5/449.full.pdf+html
  10. Parmar, Malvinder S. British Medical Journal. “Kidney Stones.”June 10, 2004. http://www.bmj.com/content/328/7453/1420

Last reviewed 03/Jun/2017

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Ann-Mary Hromek

Ann-Mary Hromek has twenty years experience in wholistic therapies and specialises in nutritional and environmental medicine. She is an experienced group facilitator and lecturer and an integral part of the ACNEM education team.
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