It's an ugly picture, folks!
Without calcium, your body would be a shapeless mass of skin. In fact, 99% of your body's calcium content is in your skeletal system and the teeth. The other 1% can be found in the soft tissues and the blood. It is the most common mineral in the body. Almost every food you eat contains some amount of calcium.
How does calcium help the body?
In addition to its crucial role in helping the body develop and maintain strong bones and teeth, calcium plays a role in several other very important body functions. For example, the simple, and easily obtained, mineral calcium, working with magnesium, helps regulate the rhythm of your heart beat. It helps ensure that nutrients are passed into and out of cell walls properly.
Calcium helps nerves and muscles function correctly. It plays a role in lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure. The blood clotting process could not work correctly without calcium. And if you've ever been told to drink a glass of milk before bed, there's a reason for this advice. Calcium, especially dietary calcium, helps relieve insomnia.
What Are Some Good Sources of Calcium
Fortunately, getting adequate amounts of calcium from the food we eat is easy.
The most concentrated sources of easily absorbed calcium are dairy products such as milk, cheese (cottage, cheddar, provolone, mozzarella, etc.) and yogurt. Tofu (firm and processed with calcium sulfate), dried beans and dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and bok choy also are good sources of calcium.
You will also find calcium in foods that have been intentionally fortified with it, such as orange juice, and many cereal products. Eating sardines (and their bones) that have been packed in oil is another option. One serving of Chicken of the Sea sardines in mustard sauce (my favorite) can supply almost 30% of your daily requirement for calcium.
Daily Requirements of Calcium
The required daily allowances for calcium vary depending on age... and a few other factors.
Infants and toddlers should normally get 400 and 600 mg respectively.
Children should increase their intake of calcium to 800, and, increase even more to 1200 mg/day as they near puberty.
Teenagers need a lot of calcium because, during these years, a significant amount of bone mass is being added to the body. Adolescents and even young adults should strive to get 1200 mg/day.
Pregnant women should try to get between 1200 and 1500 mg/day of calcium. Men need 1000 mg/day but those age 65 and above need to increase their daily intake of calcium to 1500 mg/day.
Symptoms of a Calcium Deficiency
When you do not regularly meet the daily requirements of this calcium, the bones will generally suffer most. The first noticeable sign of a calcium deficiency is soft and brittle bones... usually only detectable by specific medical tests. If not treated, osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones begin to deteriorate, often develops, especially in women during and after menopause.
Children who do not consume sufficient quantities of calcium generally will experience growth-related problems, including bone deformation. Children also can develop Rickets, a condition that had at one time, virtually been eliminated. Decaying teeth, depression and spasms in the legs and arms are other noticeable symptoms of a calcium deficiency.
Drinking milk is definitely one habit that's worth starting and worth continuing throughout life. Doing so helps the skeletal system develop fully and helps keep teeth and bones strong. Those who may be lactose intolerant or have other problems with cow's milk might want to try goat milk, soy milk, or some of the new forms of lactose free milk.
Calcium and Vitamin D
As with many vitamins and minerals, calcium use by the body is dependent upon other nutrients. For example, calcium and vitamin D work synergistically for bone health. Calcium helps build and maintain bones, while vitamin D assists your body to most effectively absorb calcium. So, while you may be getting "enough" calcium, your body may not have effective access to it without Vitamin D.