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Also See: Coral Calcium

[Bones | Nerve & Muscle Contraction | Blood Pressure | Metabolism]
[Muscles & Sports | Pregnancy or PMS | Calcium Deficiency]
[Calcium Supplementation | Interactions & Contraindications]
[Cautions | Calcium Binding Proteins | References]

Calcium is required all of our lives for healthy bones, teeth, muscle, nerve function, and for blood clotting. Muscle pains, cramps, twitches convulsions, and even cancer may suggest calcium deficiency.1 Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. An average man contains about three pounds of calcium and an average woman about two pounds of calcium. 99% of the calcium in the body is found in the bones and teeth. The other 1% of calcium may be the most important. Calcium helps regulate cellular metabolism throughout the body, so it is necessary for all body functions.2

Calcium may be of benefit in the treatment of allergy complaints, for depression, insomnia, panic attacks, arthritis, hypoglycemia, muscle and joint pains.

Calcium in Bones
The main storehouse and use of calcium is the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. Calcium in bones is constantly being replenished, with 20% of an adult's bone calcium reabsorbed and replaced every year.3

When the body does not get enough calcium it will withdraw a small amount from the bones to be sure that there is enough in the bloodstream. Over time, this deficiency has a cumulative effect. Osteoporosis, which literally means 'porous bones' is the result of calcium deficiency and in some cases, can be so severe as to cause the bones to break under the weight of the body. Particularly badly affected bones include the spinal vertebrae, the thighbone and the radius (shorter arm bone). The symptoms of osteoporosis may be absent until fractures occur although in some cases there may be back pain. As calcium is withdrawn from the bones, the body does its best to compensate. To protect the sagging architecture of the now brittle bones, bony deposits and spurs reduce movement and limit activity.4

Menopausal women are especially prone to osteoporosis although the problem occurs in a similar way in men. Most of the bone loss seen in osteoporosis occurs in the first 5-6 years after menopause due to a decline in circulating estrogen and an age related reduction in vitamin D production.

Getting enough calcium early in life is vital for bones to reach their maximum density. Studies show that calcium intake in the 11-24 year old age group is often below the recommended levels with serious consequences for later life. It is never too late to slow the bone loss seen in osteoporosis and early postmenopausal years are an important time to ensure optimal calcium intake. Calcium deficiency can lead to periodontal disease.3,10

Calcium in Nerve and Muscle Contraction
Calcium is essential for muscle contraction, including that of the heart muscle. Calcium is critical for nerve impulse conduction. Increasing calcium intake may normalize heart rhythm in arrhythmia sufferers. Calcium also aids in the release of neurotransmitters which carry messages between nerve cells.2,3 The connection between the electrical activity of the cell and the release of the neurotransmitter is not direct: an essential intermediary is the calcium ion.5

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Calcium's Effect on Blood Pressure
Calcium interacts with sodium, potassium and magnesium to regulate blood pressure. It has been found that people whose diets are low in calcium are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure. The effects of a mother's high calcium diet during pregnancy may also be passed on to her children who will be less likely to suffer from high blood pressure.2,3,6 Calcium is also involved in the control of blood cholesterol levels. Increased calcium may lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of developing premature heart disease.

Calcium and Metabolism
A number of important metabolic processes are influenced by small changes in calcium concentration. These include: a) the excitability of nerve function and neural transmission; b) the secretion by cells of proteins and hormones, and other mediators such as neurotransmitters; c) the coupling of cell excitation with cell response (for example, contraction in the case of muscle cells and secretion in the case of saliva cells); d) cell proliferation; e) blood coagulation, by acting as a co-factor for the essential enzymes involved in clotting; f) maintenance of the stability and permeability of cell members; g) modulation of activity, in particular those of enzymes involved in glycogenolysis are calcium dependent, and h) the mineralization of newly formed bone.7 Calcium is essential for the production and activity of many enzymes and hormones that are involved in digestion, energy and fat metabolism and the production of saliva.

Muscles, Sports and Calcium
When calcium levels drop below normal, muscle cramps can occur as low levels of calcium in the blood can increase the sensitivity of the nerves and cause muscles to go into spasm. Pregnant women whose diets are deficient in calcium are at greatest risk of muscle cramps.2,3,5 Muscles give off lactic acid when they are heavily used. If there is not adequate calcium to neutralize the lactic acid and carry it out of the cell and surrounding areas, soreness and cramps may result.8

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Calcium and Pregnancy or PMS
At least you can't get both at the same time! Luckily men don't get either - imagine living with a man who had either big P. Calcium can be used to control the incidence of leg cramps in pregnant women. Calcium has also been shown to reduce the incidence of menstrual cramps and symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).12

Use of calcium supplements during pregnancy may lower a woman's blood pressure and lower the risk of preeclampsia which occurs in one in every twenty pregnant women. Symptoms of preeclampsia are high blood pressure, headache, blurred vision and anxiety. This can lead to eclampsia, a seizure disorder which can cause complications with pregnancy and even death. Many pregnant women do not consume enough calcium to ensure optimal blood pressure regulation.13 Calcium supplementation during pregnancy may reduce preterm delivery in high-risk populations.13

Pregnant and breast-feeding women, postmenopausal women and vegans may benefit from calcium supplements. Some research shows that taking calcium supplements later in life can slow the bone loss associated with osteoporosis.12

Dietary calcium and manganese supplementation may reduce the symptoms of menstrual cycle symptoms (PMS).14

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Calcium Deficiency
Those at risk of calcium deficiency include the elderly, people who don't eat dairy products, those on high protein or high fiber diets and those who drink a lot of alcohol. People on weight reducing diets are also at risk for calcium deficiency, as calcium-containing foods are often high in calories. Athletes and premenopausal women whose menstrual periods have stopped may also be at increased risk of calcium deficiency which can lead to stress fractures, shin splints, weak bones, poor bone healing and eventually osteoporosis.3,4

The level of hydrochloric acid in stomach acid decreases with age or with the use of antacids. Hydrochloric acid in the stomach is needed to break down calcium compounds in preparation for adsorption in the intestines. In the intestines, Vitamin D is further required for calcium adsorption.17 People who do not get enough natural sunlight or are otherwise lacking in Vitamin D, will show signs of calcium deficiency.8 This is the reason Vitamin D is often included in calcium supplements.

Studies have shown that calcium is deficient in the diets of many women with around 35% of women suffering from osteoporosis after menopause. The average daily intake in the US is 600mg and in many countries calcium is the mineral we are most likely to be deficient in. Hip fractures cost $10 billion in the US and $175 million per year in Australia.

Between 10 and 40% of dietary calcium intake is absorbed, although women after menopause may absorb as low as 7%. Calcium from milk and milk products is absorbed more easily than that from vegetables. Absorption is enhanced by vitamin D, proteins, lactose, phosphorus, stomach acid and magnesium.3

Lactation increases the ability of women to absorb calcium after weaning or the resumption of menstrual periods. Calcium deficiency and moderate exercise also increase absorption and the efficiency of calcium absorption decreases as intake increases.

Calcium competes with zinc, manganese, magnesium, copper and iron for absorption in the intestine and a high intake of one can reduce absorption of the others.11

There are many research studies, which elude to the fact that high phosphorus and/or phosphoric acid (found in meat and soft drinks) leaches calcium out of the bones. This has a negative effect on bone density, leaving bones porous and spongy. When calcium is pulled from the bones, it is released through the kidneys resulting in stone formation (kidney stones) before it is excreted.12,15,16

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Also See: Coral Calcium

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