Calcium is the mineral that is found most in the body, 99 percent of which is found in the bones and teeth. 1 percent of the calcium that we have in our body is used in nerve transmission, regulating heart function, regulating blood pressure, regulating muscle function as well as hormone secretion. Suffice to say, calcium is a mineral that our body simply cannot do without.
When the body does not get enough calcium from the diet, it borrows calcium from the bones, thus making it weaker than it should be. In the long run, this could cause a thinning of the bones, called osteoporosis. Calcium is the building block of our bones, starting from when we are infants. The calcium that we get from the diet slowly builds up the cartilaginous tissue that we start out with, slowly forming into hard, stress-resistant bone. Throughout a human’s life, bone is continually formed as calcium is added, peaking around the age of 35.
The recommended amount of calcium intake differs as we age. Infants 0-6 months of age will need 200 milligrams of calcium a day, while babies from 7 months old to 1 year old will need 260 milligrams daily. As the babies grow older, their calcium requirements will steadily increase. Toddlers 1-3 years old will need 700 mg daily, while children 4-8 years old will need 1,000 milligrams a day. The recommended calcium intake peaks as they slowly go into adolescence and adulthood, as children 9-18 years old will need 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women under the age of 19 will need 1,300 milligrams of calcium while those over 19 will need 1,000 milligrams daily. Adult women from 19-50 and adult men from 19-70 will need 1,000 mg of calcium daily, while women 51 years and older and men 71 years and older will need 1,200 mg. the reason why adult women require more at an earlier age is because menopause plays a big factor in their calcium needs. The hormone estrogen plays a key role in the absorption of calcium, and estrogen declines after menopause thus the need for increased dietary calcium.
So where is calcium most found aside from supplements? Dairy products are generally high in calcium, including milk, cheeses, and yogurt. One cup of yogurt will contain about 350 mg of calcium while a cup of milk will contain about 300 mg. calcium can also be found in abundance in green leafy vegetables, in fish products like salmon and sardines, and in nuts like almonds. It can also be found in products like tofu, cereals, rice milk and soy milk. It is important to note that calcium needs to be taken in conjunction with other compounds in order to increase its absorption in the body, namely vitamin D (which can be absorbed from sunlight), acidic medium (from citrus fruits like lemon, oranges) and lactose. There are some factors that can lower our body’s ability to absorb calcium such as oxalic acid, phytic acid, too much fat in the diet, lack of exercise, too much fiber in the diet, stress, caffeine and advanced age.
Adequate amount of liquids in the diet must be taken in order to dissolve the calcium for absorption so it is recommended to take foods with enough water or take it in its liquid form from milk or juices. Caffeine intake should also be limited, because too much caffeine can make the kidneys excrete in the urine the calcium that the bones should be absorbing. Intake of caffeinated beverages should be limited to just two servings a day.