Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and therefore the most important. Around 90% of the calcium eaten in the diet is absorbed into the bones – they store, on average, a whopping 1.2 kg! Peak bone mineral density is reached around the age of 25, so having sufficient calcium in the diet from an early age is really necessary. It’s equally important to ensure that dietary intake or supplementation is sufficient throughout life, particularly for women after the menopause, when bone density can drop sharply.
As well as strong bones and teeth, calcium also has a number of other crucial functions in the body – it’s vital for muscle contraction, regulating blood pressure, regulating nerve transmission and for the blood clotting mechanism.
WHERE IS CALCIUM FOUND?
Most people know that the best sources of calcium are milk and dairy products, including yoghurts, cheese and butter. However, if you can’t tolerate dairy there are some other really good sources.
In terms of alternative milks, almond and soya milks provide calcium and some are also fortified. Green leafy vegetables are also great sources of calcium but spinach and chard contain high levels of oxalic acid, which can prevent proper absorption, so are maybe not the best sources. Canned fish which contains soft bones, together with salmon and pilchards are great to include in the diet as much as possible.
THE IMPORTANCE OF VITAMIN D
Calcium is absorbed in the small intestines but is dependent on having sufficient vitamin D in the body. If you’re lacking in vitamin D, you’ll also be lacking in calcium as they are so closely linked. Calcium also works alongside magnesium and where there is a deficiency of both, this can lead to calcification of the soft tissue due to too much calcium in the blood stream. Unfortunately, this can lead to blood clots in later life.
CALCIUM DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS
Low intakes of calcium are often linked to cases of high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. Calcium is also really important for normal muscle functioning and low levels can cause spasms, heart palpitations (as the heart is a muscle) and cramps.