Calcium is a mineral required for contraction and dilation of blood vessels, muscle function, transmission of nerve impulses, hormone regulation, and cell communication. An amazing fact is, all of these functions only utilize 1% of the total body’s calcium!
What about the remaining 99% of your body’s calcium? The rest is stored in bones and teeth to support their function and structure. Bones undergo constant breakdown and rebuilding. Therefore, calcium is very important for bone health and is the main reason it is the most abundant mineral in your body. Bone deposit and breakdown changes with age, making the amount necessary different for younger vs older individuals. The formation of bone exceeds resorption in children and adolescents. Early adulthood to middle age, the processes are about equal. As adults age, bone breakdown is greater than bone formation. This process is magnified in postmenopausal women and increases the risk of osteoporosis.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is the average daily intake sufficient to meet the requirement of most healthy individuals. Males and females fro age 9 through 18 require 1300 mg/day. Males and females ages 19-50 require 1000 mg/day. Males continue to require 1000 mg/day up to age 70 and 1200 mg/day age 71 and over. Females, age 51 and over, require 1200 mg/day.
Many of my patients ask what sources provide calcium and how much calcium they contain. I will show a few common examples. A good source of calcium is plain, low fat yogurt. An 8 ounce serving has about 400 mg of calcium. Besides the usual dairy products, other sources include whole-wheat bread (1 slice = 30 mg), broccoli (raw, half cup = 21 mg), kale (cooked, 1 cup = 94 mg), and corn tortillas (one 6€ diameter = 46 mg). The US Department of Agriculture recommends 3 cups of milk group products per day for ages 9 and over. One cup equals 8 ounces of milk, 1 cup of yogurt, or 1.5 ounces of Cheddar cheese.
I often recommend calcium supplements for everyone. Unfortunately, all supplements are not created equal and contain differing amounts of elemental calcium. Two common calcium supplements are Calcium Carbonate and Calcium Citrate. Calcium carbonate is 40% calcium and calcium citrate is 21% calcium. The exact percentages are typically found on each label.
- Calcium carbonate is the most common available and is usually less expensive. Calcium carbonate requires stomach acid for absorption and is best utilized with meals.
- Calcium citrate is absorbed equally well with or without food. I recommend calcium citrate to my patients who have bowel disorders or absorption issues.
Some people taking calcium supplements may experience stomach or intestinal discomfort, such as gas, bloating, or constipation. These may be worse after taking calcium carbonate. This can often be alleviated by spreading your dosage throughout the day and with meals. Factors to consider when taking calcium include; amount, type, and age. The more calcium you take, the less the absorption. Calcium absorption decreases with age and is improved with vitamin D intake. A portion of your calcium is eliminated in urine, feces, and sweat. Caffeine can also reduce absorption. Alcohol reduces calcium absorption and due to adverse lever affects, it also decreases vitamin D levels in your body. Carbonated soft drinks also reduce bone mass and raise fracture risks. Recent studies have shown fruits and vegetables may actually increase calcium absorption.
I hope this information will help convince you how important calcium is in your diet. I also hope it clears up any confusion as to what type and amount of calcium is right for you.