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Cracking Code Calcium

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

Calcium is critical for the human body. It is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Our bones and teeth consist of over 99% of Calcium present in the body. Calcium is the reason behind making and maintaining our skeletal system strong and resilient. Many other minerals are also involved in the right proportions that lead to proper bone function. Calcium is an essential mineral for trillions of biochemical reactions every second in our body to maintain a healthy metabolism. Calcium is vital for muscle contraction, blood clotting, and stabilizing blood pressure. In addition, Calcium is crucial for normal brain functions. It helps in transporting hormones and enzymes through our blood. It also assists the movement of sperms into an egg for the fertilization process.


Calcium deficiency leads to:

Osteoporosis: It is the condition when your bone becomes porous due to a decrease in bone density. Bone density decreases because bone loss is faster than new bone creation. Osteoporosis weakens bones and makes bones more susceptible to bone fractures. It primarily affects women after menopause.

Rickets: It is a childhood disorder due to prolonged Calcium and vitamin D deficiency that leads to softening and distortions of bone.

Osteomalacia: Condition caused by severe vitamin D and calcium deficiency results in weak, soft bones in adults.


The recommended daily intake of Calcium: (10)


Birth to 6 months - 200 mg

Infants 7–12 months - 260 mg

Children 1–3 years - 700 mg

Children 4–8 years - 1,000 mg

Children 9–13 years - 1,300 mg

Teens 14–18 years - 1,300 mg

Adults 19–50 years - 1,000 mg

Adult men 51–70 years - 1,000 mg

Adult women 51–70 years - 1,200 mg

Adults 71 years and older - 1,200 mg

Pregnant and breastfeeding adults - 1,000 mg

Milk for Calcium?

“Milk has calcium in it that can help you grow healthy teeth and bones.”

“Milk and milk products are great sources of calcium and other minerals that make for good health and body maintenance.”


Do these lines seem familiar to you? Do we need to drink milk or eat dairy products to have enough Calcium? Milk contains animal protein that exceeds acid load in the body, unlike plant protein. (17) (18) Therefore, our body neutralizes the acid by using Calcium, a base pulled out of the bone. This demineralization (calcium loss ) process makes our bone brittle and prone to fracture. (19) (20)Studies have shown that women consuming more dairy products are more prone to have osteoporosis. A study done on 1000 menopausal women suggests that the highest consumption of dairy is related to more bone loss and hip fractures. Milk sure is a complete food for babies that they get from their mommy’s breast. Nowadays, adults get to drink milk that goes through homogenization and pasteurization, laden with impurities and hormones(sometimes artificial), and not to forget saturated fats. Consuming milk has several side effects like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. By saying this, I am not suggesting following veganism; it is an ask to have an informed choice. You can have enough Calcium from grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Besides, many greens and vegetables like mustard greens, Broccoli, and kale have better bioavailability than milk. One of the reasons people who consume a lot of green vegetables have less risk of osteoporosis.

Plant-based Calcium-rich food

calcium content /100 gm


Oats – 54mg

Finger millet - 344 mg

Poppy seeds - 1438 mg

Sesame seeds - 429 mg

Chia seeds - 533 mg

Flax seeds - 255mg

Red lentils - 60 mg

Navy beans - 49 mg

Kidney beans - 40 mg

Black beans - 42 mg

Collard greens - 118 mg

Mustard greens - 115 mg

Bok choy - 106 mg

Chopped kale - 133 mg

Moringa leaves - 440 mg

Fenugreek leaves - 395 mg

Dill leaves – 208 mg

Tofu - 118 mg calcium

Organic soy milk - 188 mg calcium

Edamame - 63 mg calcium

Navel orange - 43 mg calcium

Broccoli - 46 mg calcium

Dried figs - 162 mg calcium

Almonds - 273mg calcium

Peanut – 92 mg

Pepitas- 55 mg

Fox nuts- 60 mg


Supplements or no supplements?

Growing up in the nineties, I remember how calcium supplements for kids were popular over-the-counter medicine that came in a happy puppy bottle. Those pills were marketed so cleverly that both parents and children embraced the idea of calcium supplementation. Thus, kids used to pop 500mg of Calcium twice a day without a prescription. Pregnant, pre-and postmenopausal women were also advised to take calcium supplements daily. This misconception was running everywhere so much that you could find calcium pill bottles in every household. These myths were debunked based on several findings.

  • Supplemental Calcium has little or no nutritional value. Like iron and copper, excess Calcium is toxic to the human body. (2)

  • Several researchers suggest that dietary Calcium is more impactful than supplemental Calcium when it comes to bone-building because the body better absorbs Calcium from a food source than from a pill form. (21)

  • Finally, Calcium gets absorbed more effectively when taken in a small quantity at a time. Excess Calcium in the body can accelerate the calcification of arteries, leads heart-related disorders. Besides, extra Calcium contributes to several severe ailments like Gastrointestinal disorders, kidney stones, and prostate and ovarian cancers. (3) (22)Therefore, taking calcium supplements under a doctor’s guidance is always good.


Factors that interfere with the calcium absorption

Sometimes, people consume enough Calcium but cannot absorb it effectively; thus, they are deficient in this vital mineral. Several factors can interfere with calcium absorption.

Not enough ingestion of other essential nutrients

Calcium absorption is efficiently done by your body when you have enough other essential nutrients. Vitamin D, Vitamin K 2, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Magnesium play a crucial role in calcium absorption. Vitamin A, D, and K2 metabolize Calcium in our diet and make sure that Calcium from our body gets deposited in the bone. Therefore, it is essential to have a diet rich in all nutrients. (24)

Sedentary lifestyle Several researchers suggest that people with sedentary lifestyles suffer more calcium loss and are more prone to fractures. Regular exercise is crucial for strong bones. (4)

Indulgence In ultra-processed food

The body effectively does calcium absorption in the presence of prebiotics which is present in plant-based whole food. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate real food /prebiotics for better calcium absorption. (8)

Excess sodium in your food

Highly processed and convenience food like chips, fries, and other packaged food contains excess salt. By consuming those products, you are increasing the chances of calcium loss. Be mindful of salt while cooking as well. (25)

More animal-derived proteins in your food

Eating more dairy and meat can increase the acid load in your body, resulting in calcium loss. Instead, you can choose several calcium-rich plant-based foods to get your Calcium. (17) (18)


Smoking and alcohol use

Lifestyle factors like smoking and drinking cause calcium loss in your body. It is good to limit alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco consumption for better calcium absorption. (23) (26)


Dependent on oxalate-rich food for Calcium

Oxalate is an anti-nutrient present in many commonly used greens like spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, etc. Oxalates interfere with the calcium absorption process. Cooking and boiling these greens can neutralize oxalates to a great extent. Be sure to add other Calcium-rich food to your diet to ensure adequate calcium intake.


References:

  1. calcium supplementation and cardiovascular risk: A rising concern - PubMed (nih.gov)

  2. Is excess calcium harmful to health? - PubMed (nih.gov)

  3. Calcium supplementation in clinical practice: a review of forms, doses, and indications - PubMed (nih.gov)

  4. Adult female hip bone density reflects teenage sports-exercise patterns but not teenage calcium intake - PubMed (nih.gov)

  5. Calcium - Consumer (nih.gov)

  6. Calcium intake, calcium bioavailability, and bone health | British Journal of Nutrition | Cambridge Core

  7. Diet, Nutrition, and Bone Health | The Journal of Nutrition | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

  8. Prebiotics and calcium bioavailability - PubMed (nih.gov)

  9. Calcium-Food.pdf (nih.gov)

  10. Calcium-Content.pdf (nih.gov)

  11. Dietary calcium: adequacy of a vegetarian diet - PubMed (nih.gov)

  12. Global dietary calcium intake among adults: a systematic review (nih.gov)

  13. The use of calcium and vitamin D in the management of osteoporosis (nih.gov)

  14. Vitamin D Deficiency in Adults: When to Test and How to Treat (nih.gov)

  15. Calcium and Vitamin D: Skeletal and Extraskeletal Health (nih.gov)

  16. Physiology, Calcium - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)

  17. Acid Balance, Dietary Acid Load, and Bone Effects—A Controversial Subject - PMC (nih.gov)

  18. Acid loading and osteoporosis - PubMed (nih.gov)

  19. Dairy intake is not associated with improvements in bone min...: Menopause (lww.com)

  20. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies - PubMed (nih.gov)

  21. A Closer look at calcium absorption and the benefits and risks of dietary versus supplemental calcium - PubMed (nih.gov)

  22. The good, the bad, and the ugly of calcium supplementation: a review of calcium intake on human health - PMC (nih.gov)

  23. Effect of calcium intake vs. other life-style factors on bone mass - PubMed (nih.gov)

  24. Calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K2, and magnesium supplementation and skeletal health - PubMed (nih.gov)

  25. Sodium and bone health: The impact of moderately high and low salt intakes on calcium metabolism in postmenopausal women — Welcome to DTU Research Database

  26. Smoking Increases Bone Loss and Decreases Intestinal Calcium Absorption - Krall - 1999 - Journal of Bone and Mineral Research - Wiley Online Library

27. FoodData Central (usda.gov)


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