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  • Writer's pictureDr. Megan Choy

Calcium: Health Benefits and Supplementation


Calcium, like many of the supplements on my "favorites" list, is necessary for many systems in the body. It can be said that it is universally required throughout the body. The function that is spoken about most is its role in the bones and teeth, and while the these make up about 99% of the calcium in the body, that is only one of many functions.


OTHER CALCIUM FUNCTIONS IN THE BODY

Calcium floods into muscle cells (skeletal, smooth & cardiac) and reacts with regulatory proteins, allowing muscle contraction to occur. Through this mechanism calcium plays a role in every movement we make, the beating of our heart, the movement of blood through blood vessels, and the movement of food through the digestive tract.


Calcium initiates the release of blood-clotting agents from platelets. Without this initial release, we would not be able to form clots and stop bleeding.


Calcium ions regulate heart rhythm. In addition to calcium playing a role in the contraction of the heart muscle, calcium is also important in maintaining a regular heartbeat.


Calcium is the signal for the neurons to release neurotransmitters allowing the signal to transmit from neuron to neuron and to target organs. This function truly makes calcium universally necessary in the body. Because of its role in the nervous system, calcium is necessary for movement and sensory processing, for sleep, digestion, cognition, and pretty much every other function in the body.


So now that we understand why calcium is so important, I want to talk about daily requirements, food sources and supplementation.


DOSAGE

A good target for daily calcium for adults is 1200mg. There are some individuals who need more, including pregnant and lactation women, and professional athletes. These groups can use up to 2400mg daily. It should be noted that the amounts listed are total calcium, dietary and supplementation.


FOOD SOURCES

The best food sources are small fish eaten with the bones (like anchovies), and hard aged cheeses. When eating a hard aged cheese, you may notice small crystals in the cheese, these are calcium lactate crystals. There are many other sources of calcium in foods, but they deliver significantly less than the two I mentioned. It should be noted that spinach, which is commonly thought a good source of calcium, MUST be cooked in order to get that calcium, otherwise the antinutrient oxalic acid binds and renders the calcium inaccessible.


SUPPLEMENTATION

Calcium supplementation comes in many forms. All forms, except the most common one, are good forms of calcium. Sadly, calcium carbonate, the commonly found form, is a bit problematic. The carbonate part of this form neutralizes acid, and acid is necessary for the absorption of calcium (and other minerals). So unless I'm working with a client with acid reflux, I avoid calcium carbonate. I will use calcium citrate, calcium lactate, calcium hydroxyapatite, and calcium malate.


Three other things of note with calcium supplementation. First, the research suggests that te body can only absorb 500mg of calcium at a time, so if all calcium is gotten through supplementation, the dose should be divided.


Second, through clinical research, it appears that the body acclimates to calcium, and over time it becomes less effective. This issue can be dealt with my rotating the type and brand of calcium used every 30-90 days. I recommend having 2 types of calcium available and switching back and forth.


Third, Vitamin D is important for the absorption and utilization of calcium. I'll be devoting a post to Vitamin D, so for more information watch for that.


The last thing I want to mention is some research that was done a while back that showed an increase in myocardial infarction (heart attacks) with calcium supplementation. This study should be considered when looking at calcium supplementation, but it is important to take it in context. There are other similar studies that did not see that correlation. And it is simply a correlation, causation was not proved in that study. If you are concerned about your risk of heart attack, I highly recommend that you consult with your physician before taking calcium.


In fact, before beginning any supplement, I recommend everyone consult their physician so that the supplementation is done in a safe and effective way.




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