Calcium Supplements – Who needs them?

Calcium is a mineral that is abundantly present in our bodies. A major part of it is in the teeth and bones and it is responsible for giving strength and resilience. The rest of the calcium is present in nerve cells, body tissues, blood, and other body fluids. Calcium plays a very important role in the body’s overall health as it contributes to many body functions. Maintaining a proper level of calcium in the body is essential for building strong bones and teeth; clotting blood; sending and receiving nerve signals; squeezing and relaxing muscles; releasing hormones and other chemicals, and keeping a normal heartbeat. Milk, curd, cheese, and calcium supplements are sources of this mineral.

Our body regulates the level of calcium in a narrow range to ensure the healthy functioning of nerves and muscles through various hormones. However, the main substances involved in the regulation of calcium and phosphorus levels are vitamin D and parathyroid hormone. A major portion of calcium is present in bones and teeth, these organs are the ones affected the most when we do not have adequate calcium in the body.

Sources of Calcium:

Our body does not produce calcium, so one must get it through external sources. Popular food sources for calcium are dairy products. The body can easily absorb the calcium found in milk, yogurt, cheese, and buttermilk.

Other non-dairy sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables such as spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, turnip greens, mustard greens, and cabbage; fish like salmon and sardines, seeds and nuts like sunflower seeds, almonds, etc.

Addition of calcium to some natural food products like orange juice, soy milk, bread, and tofu. These can be an excellent source of calcium for people who do not prefer dairy products in their diet.

Adequate absorption of calcium requires exposure to the sun in addition to the diet. UV radiation from the sun helps in converting vitamin D in our body to its active form, which is necessary for calcium regulation.

Who should take calcium supplements?

People usually get the required amount of calcium through diet, dairy, and non-dairy sources. However, calcium deficiency may occur in certain cases, where access to a good diet is unavailable or in climates without adequate exposure to the sun. People with lactose intolerance may not be able to ingest dairy products and hence not get enough calcium.

When the calcium intake is insufficient, the body uses up the calcium from your skeleton, thereby making them weak and brittle, a condition known as osteoporosis. More severe deficiency of calcium leads to conditions called osteomalacia and tetany, where bones become soft and fracture easily and painful contractions of muscles occur and death may occur due to an abnormality in heart conduction.

Women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis due to sheltered and sedentary lifestyles along with hormonal changes following menopause (Cessation of menstrual periods). So generally older women after menopause, people who maintain an unbalanced diet, people on a vegan diet; people whose body is unable to absorb enough calcium due to other health problems; people diagnosed with osteoporosis are recommended to take calcium supplements.

What calcium supplements to take?

Calcium supplements come in many forms, either as pure calcium salts or in combination with other minerals and vitamins. A common and popular combination is calcium with vitamin D products. To choose the right supplement one should know the daily recommendation (RDA levels) and whether there are any other accompanying minerals.

It is better to take calcium supplements between meals so it is less likely to inhibit the absorption of other vital nutrients. A recommendation for daily calcium requirement is as below.

Calcium Requirement

Age group Calcium Intake/day
Infants 200-260 mg
1-3 700 mg
4-8 1000 mg
9-18 1300 mg
19-50 1000 mg
51-70(males) 1000 mg
51-70(Females) 1200 mg

Written by MedPlus