The Benefits of Calcium
By: Dr. George Obikoya
Calcium is the mineral most likely to be deficient in the average diet. Let me repeat that. Calcium is the mineral most likely to be deficient in the average diet. Calcium deficiency is a condition in which we fail to receive or to metabolize an adequate supply of Calcium. Calcium is the chief supportive element in bones and teeth. Calcium salts make up about 70 percent of bone by weight and give your bone its strength and rigidity.
About 99 percent of the calcium in the human body is held in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1 percent of calcium circulates in the bloodstream, where it performs a variety of important functions. It helps to contract muscles and helps regulate the contractions of the heart. It plays a role in the transmission of nerve impulses and in blood clotting. Calcium is involved in the stimulation of contractions of the uterus during childbirth and in milk production. It also regulates the secretion of various hormones and aids in the functioning of various enzymes within the body. Since vitamin C is important for so many necessary bodily functions, taking a liquid mulitvitamin that is rich in vitamin C is advised.
When we take Calcium, it absorbed in the small intestine and passes from there either into the bloodstream or ultimately into the bones. The most efficient absorption of calcium is dependent on the presence of vitamin D in the body, which is a key ingredient in the various hormones that enable calcium to pass from the digestive system into the blood or bones. Similarly, there are optimal ratios of phosphorus to the amount of calcium consumed that permit calcium to be more completely utilized. Hormonal secretions of the parathyroid and thyroid glands (parathyroid hormone and calcitonin, respectively) also help maintain calcium equilibrium in the blood.
These regulatory mechanisms help to prevent a deficiency in calcium from developing in the bloodstream. When such a deficiency does develop, parathyroid hormone acts to transfer calcium from the bones in order to maintain the mineral's all-important presence in the bloodstream. This of course strips your bones of their calcium and in turn weakens your bones, making them more brittle and subject to breaking.
The result of a mild insufficiency of calcium over the long term may be thinning bones, termed osteoporosis or the softening of bony tissue, called osteomalacia. The faulty metabolism of calcium during childhood may result in a condition called rickets.
Recent research even points to calcium deficiency as being a possible cause of hypertension (high blood pressure) and of colon cancer.
Severe calcium deficiency, which is defined as a reduction of calcium levels in the bloodstream below a certain normal range, has its own clinical manifestations. The main syndrome is tetany, which involves sensations of numbness and tingling around the mouth and fingertips and painful aches and spasms of the muscles. A clinically detectable deficiency of calcium is a relatively rare finding and is almost always caused either by a deficiency of parathyroid hormone or of vitamin D in the body, the two chief regulators of calcium metabolism. Usually the problem manifests as an insidious, low level of calcium over a long period of time, which is far more difficult to correct.
You've heard it now and probably many times before. You need calcium to prevent osteoporosis. But a lack of this mineral means more than weak bones. Key organs and bodily functions, like your heart and metabolism, need calcium to operate at their best. Yet only 21 percent of us are getting the recommended amount of calcium, according to federal government statistics.
Here are five important but little-known ways that getting more calcium can improve your health:
Calcium helps keep the weight off. Research suggests that if you don't get enough calcium in your diet, you're likely to be overweight. Of course, it's possible to be overweight even if you do get plenty of calcium, but an adequate supply of Calcium appears to make it easier to maintain a healthy weight. The reason has to do with your body's response to a calcium deficit. When you're low, your body thinks you're starving and enters emergency mode, releasing parathyroid hormone from four glands in your neck. This hormone stimulates your bones to release some calcium into your bloodstream. Your kidneys also deliver a dose of a hormone called calcitriol, a form of vitamin D, to increase your ability to absorb calcium. This helps keep the body in balance, but is operating the body in an emergency mode, which over time, is very unhealthy.
The trouble is that parathyroid hormone and calcitriol also stimulate the production of fat and inhibits its breakdown. As a result, your body stores fat and holds on to it stubbornly, even if you're on a low-calorie diet. On the other hand, a high calcium intake suppresses these hormones so your body stores less fat and also breaks it down far more easily.
Calcium also protects your heart. If you're low on calcium, you're more likely to have high blood pressure. Your body releases the hormone calcitriol in response to a calcium shortage, and calcitriol acts on the smooth muscle walls of your arteries, constricting them and elevating your blood pressure. In fact, your calcium intake may be almost as important to blood pressure as your sodium intake. An adequate supply of calcium helps muscles, including your heart muscle, do their work of contracting and relaxing. Calcium also appears to help your nervous system regulate the level of pressure in your arteries.
Calcium improves premenstrual moods. Getting enough calcium can ease the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The explanation comes down (again) to calcium-regulating hormones. Your body suppresses the hormones if your calcium supplies are adequate, but releases these hormones if you're not getting enough. Women who suffer from PMS appear to have elevated levels of these hormones during their menstrual cycle, which account for the symptoms of PMS, like cramping, irritability, and depression, are similar to the symptoms of a calcium-deficient state.
Calcium protects against colon cancer. Adequate calcium intake may reduce your overall risk of colon cancer and suppress the growth of polyps that can lead to cancer. Researchers don't know exactly why this happens, but it may be linked to the excess calcium that's left in your intestines after your body absorbs what it needs. On its way through the colon, this unabsorbed calcium is believed to bind with cancer promoters so they're excreted together from the body. Studies have shown that both food sources of calcium and calcium supplements provide this protective effect. Calcium supplements should be taken in liquid form because liquid vitamins absorb 5 times better then do pill forms.
Calcium maintains healthy teeth. Calcium protects your teeth in an indirect way. Your teeth themselves are relatively inert, meaning that the calcium they contain usually stays there. Your jawbone is the potential problem. Like other bones, it gradually surrenders calcium for needs elsewhere in your body if you're not consuming enough. As your jaw weakens, your teeth loosen, creating gaps where bacteria can invade, triggering infection, inflammation, and bleeding. In fact, the condition of your teeth and gums can be a window to the overall health of your bones. Not surprisingly, the first signs of osteoporosis are sometimes found by your dentist.
Talk to your health care practitioner if you experience the unexpected loss of a tooth or your teeth start to feel loose. Sufficient calcium intake can prevent these problems in the first place, as well as help guard against a whole host of other problems.
A good multivitamin is the foundation of health and nutrition. Take a look at our scientific reviews of many of the popular brands for factors such as ingredients, areas of improvement, quality level, and overall value. If you are looking for a high quality liquid multivitamin, we suggest that you take a look at the Multivitamin Product Comparisons.
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NIH Consensus Development Panel on Optimal Calcium Intake. Optimal
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Morgan SL. Calcium and vitamin D in osteoporosis. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2001; 27:101-130.