Calcium Health

Calcium Health is more complicated than just your bone structure or a simple daily supplement.    As one of the many mineral nutrients your body needs calcium plays a number of important roles in your health.

Calcium Dietary Sources

The Institute of Medicine recommends the following daily intake of calcium:

  • Teenagers 1300mg
  • Adults 1200mg
  • Adults over 50 years 1300mg

Green Leafy Vegetables...

...are an excellent source of many important minerals including calcium:

  • broccoli
  • bok choy
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • collards
  • kale
  • mustard greens
  • watercress

Nuts and Seeds

High in omega fatty acids, Brazil nuts are a good source of calcium and selenium

The tiny sesame seed is nutrient dense and an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium.

With a multitude of other benefitrs, sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds are also excellent sources of calcium

Soya Products

Central to the Japanese diet, a society that boasts long-life spans and a lower incident of western diseases, soya products may well top the list as a healthy dietary source of calcium:

  • miso
  • soya milk
  • tofu
  • tamari sauce
  • tempeh
  • fresh green edamame bean

Soy beans promote bone health, contain anti-cancer properties, lower cholesterol and prevent clogged arteries.   Rich in micronutrients including a subsantial amount of calcium, soya beans have a low glycaemic index and help to prevent diabetes.

Crack Open the Sardines

Antioxidant rich and brimming with omega-3 fats, a regular helping of sardines helps prevent heart disease.  They are a great source of minerals including calcium.

Other seafood sources of calcium include prawns (shrimp), haddock cod, and oysters.

Dairy Products

While milk is a well known source of calcium, milk with artificially added vitamin A may in fact interfere with the healthy formation of bone (studies show).

Drink organic milk and if by chance you are lucky enough to find fresh raw milk, it is a much healthier deal.

Cottage cheese and yoghurt are excellent sources of calcium and without the troublesome lactose (milk sugar).

Both cottage cheese and yoghurt are rich in protein and the right yoghurt has healthy beneficial probiotics that boost the immune system.

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How is Calcium Used by the Body?

Calcium is found in the bones, muscle tissue and the blood.   While it is instrumental in the healthy formation of bones and teeth it also plays a role in the blood clotting and is very important to muscle contraction including the most important muscle in your body: the heart.   One of three electrolytes involved in healthy muscle contraction, calcium can affect the rhythm of your heart if the level in your blood is too low or too high for prolonged periods of time.

Hypocalcemia - Too Little Calcium in the Blood

A deficiency of calcium in the blood results in the condition called Hypocalcemia.  In the short term, you won't notice a moderate deficiency but a chronic shortage of calcium in the blood can cause problems in the brain typified by confusion, memory loss, delirium, depression or hallucinations.   As soon as calcium health is restored, these sypmtoms of a calcium deficiency will disappear.

When the calcium deficieny is extreme you could experience muscle spasms that may result in muscle aches, breathing difficulty, a tingling feeling in hands, feet, lips and tongue or heart palpitations.

Hypercalcemia - Too Much Calcium in the Blood

An excess level of calcium in the blood results in Hypercalcemia.   This condition may not produce sypmtoms.  If syptoms do occur, then at the onset you may experience constipation, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, loss of appetite and excessive urine.

When hypercalcemia is severe some of the sypmtoms are similar to a deficiency of calcium: the brain is affected resulting in confusion, emotional disturbances, delirium, hallucinations and even a coma.  Kidney stones may also indicate a hypercalcemic condition along with muscle weakness including an affect on heart rhythms.  Death may follow.

What Affects the Level of Calcium in Your Blood?

Calcium moves into your blood in two ways: it is absorbed through the digestive tract or it is released from the store of calcium in the bones.   If you don't get enough calcium from your diet, too much calcium may be leeched from your bones resulting in bone loss.

The level of calcium in your blood is precisely balanced by several physiological mechanisms.   The parathyroid hormone, produced by your thyroid gland, rises or falls according to the level of calcium in your blood.   The rise and fall of this hormone is responsible for controlling how much calcium is absorbed through the digestive tract.  The hormone stimulates the digestive tract to absorb calcium but it also triggers the production of vitamin D by the kidney.  It is vitamin D that helps the digestive tract absorb calcium.

Calcitonin, another hormone produced by the thyroid, slows down the breakdown of calcium from the bone and this then lowers the level of calcium in the blood.

So What Causes A Calcium Deficiency or A Dangerous Excess?

A calcium deficiency (hypocalcemia) will occur if the thyroid gland is malfunctioning and failing to produce sufficient parathyroid hormone.  A deficiency in magnesium reduces the activity of the parathyroid hormone and thus may trigger a calcium deficiency because of the role this hormone plays in the calcium balancing act.   A vitamin D deficiency may also affect how well your body absorbs calcium.   And kidney damage will increase the loss of calcium in urine and will prevent the production of vitamin D.  Other disorders including pancreatitis may affect the calcium absorption.

On the flip side, an excess of calcium (hypercalcemia) may be caused by an over active thyroid (producing too much parathyroid hormone).  Consuming too much calcium, such as drinking too much milk or taking too many calcium-rich antacid tablets or getting an overdose of vitamin D can also cause hypercalcemia.

Certain types of cancer cause hypercalcemia either through the production of proteins that act like the parathyroid hormone or through the breakdown of your bone.   Any condition, including prolonged physical inactivity, that breaks down the bone may cause an over supply of calcium.

Osteoporosis, The Breakdown of Your Bone Structure

Your bones are a living tissue and are always being renewed.   Osteoporosis occurs when more bone is broken down than is manufactured.  This results in fragile bones and the cause is related to an inadequate supply of calcium in the blood but many other risk factors are involved.   Deficiencies in other minerals, inadequate weight-bearing activity, smoking, a junk food diet including a high consumption of phosphate rich soda drinks; too much phosphorous, too much sugar, too much salt; too much acid basically.   These are all risk factors associated with osteoporosis.

There are many risk factors associated with osteoporosis but a prolonged or life-time deficiency in calcium is a leading factor. To prevent osteoporosis it is essential to get adequate supplies of calcium throughout your life.  Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, yoghurt, nuts, seeds and whole grains.  Consume very little processed and sugary foods, get at least fifteen minutes of sun every day and get regular exercise.

List of Calcium Rich Foods *

Here is a list of foods with the corresponding amount of calcium in milligrams (mg). The recommended daily allowance (rda) of calcium varies depending on age.  The National Institute of Health's chart on daily calcium intake recommends 1000mg per day for adults between the age of 19 and 50 years old.

  • 434mg - Half a cup of tofu with calcium sulfate
  • 415mg - Half a cup of low fat yoghurt
  • 324mg - 3 ounces of canned sardines with bones
  • 378mg - 1 cup of raw whole almonds
  • 290mg - 1 cup of whole milk
  • 272mg - 1 ounce of Swiss cheese
  •    88mg - 1 tablespoon of dried sesame seeds
  •    88mg - 1 tablespoon of dried sesame seeds
  •    42mg - Half a cup of uncooked dried oats
  •    33mg - 1 cup of cooked quinoa
  •    31mg - Half cup of cooked broccoli chopped
  •    30mg - 1 cup raw spinach
  •    28mg - 1 ounce (14 halves) English walnuts
  •    15mg - 1 cup raw cherry tomatoes
  •    10mg - 1 ounce of raw cashews

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