What is Calcium and Why Do I Need It?
The importance of calcium is often taken too lightly. Calcium is vital for growth and is needed even more as we age. So what exactly is calcium and why do we need?
From a young age, we were always told, "Drink your milk to build strong bones!" Though that statement holds so much truth, the importance of calcium is often underestimated, especially as age advances. So what exactly is calcium and why do we need it so badly?
What is Calcium?
Calcium is a mineral needed for vital life processes and recognized in most dairy products to support bone health. The mineral is naturally lost from the body each day through skin, hair, nails, sweat, urine and feces. And since our body cannot produce calcium on its own, we must consume adequate calcium through food sources:
Calcium Food Sources
Dairy products are known for their significant calcium intake including milk, cheese and yogurt. Additional sources include orange juice with added calcium, whole grain cereals, sardines with bones, almonds and unsweetened almond milks, soybeans, and collard greens. These non-dairy calcium products are exceptionally important for individuals with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy. Supplementary, the intake of vitamin D can enhance the absorption of calcium. Vitamin D food sources include beef, egg yolks, cheese, salmon, mackerel, tuna, and cod liver oil along with vitamin D fortified products such as milk, yogurt, and orange juice. Sunlight is also a natural source of vitamin D!
To combat the widely common calcium deficiencies, the new food label now includes calcium in hopes to encourage its consumption. Physical signs of a calcium deficiency may include muscle twitches and spasms. More serious consequences include irregular heart rhythms and bone weakening. The elderly population, especially menopausal women, are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis and require adequate intake of calcium.
Calcium Recommended Intake
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA), established by the National Food and Nutrition Board, varies based on age and gender and indicated in the table:
Why Do You Need It?
As indicated above, calcium deficiencies may range from unpleasant to life-threatening. But to delve a little deeper, calcium promotes...
...proper muscle and nerve functions.
The muscles and nerves work together to utilize calcium, as the nervous tissues use calcium's energy to stimulate nerve impulses to trigger muscle contraction. These contractions produce muscle movements and allow the body to facilitate normal body functions from simple finger manipulations to running sprints.
As previously revealed, calcium plays a large role in muscle contraction and stimulation. And since the heart is a life-sustaining muscle, calcium is needed to effectively keep the heart beating and contracting. Complimenting heart health, calcium also helps blood clot. Effective blood clotting is extremely imperative to reduce the risk of blood loss, whether it be to lessen anemia risk or save a life.
Last but certainly not least, calcium supports bone health. This acclaimed role is imperative to support structure and function of both teeth and bones in all ages. Bone is continuously remodeling itself with the help of constant reabsorption. Calcium depositing into new bones is why calcium intake is stressed in childhood, as bones are developing. And with advancing age, common unbalances between bone reabsorption and deposition is likely. Obtaining an adequate calcium intake helps to prevent bone degradation and weakening, thus reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis.