Calcium, as we all know is essential to building strong bones, but do you know the whole story? In elementary school, we’re taught calcium builds our bones to make us strong enough to become an olympian or a superhero such as our parents. What is not taught is why our bodies need it and to what extent our bodies rely upon this metal.
Calcium is a metal, available on the periodic table labeled as ‘Ca’ (after being discovered way back in the 1800’s). The name is in Latin for ‘calx’, meaning lime. This is why limestone has a large amount of calcium carbonate in it. It’s silvery-white and tarnishes in air and reacts harshly to water. Thus, many companies use it for cement, cleaning metals and making plaster. Sounds comforting to know our bodies require a substance which carpenters use to make cement, doesn’t it? Fear not though, our bodies require a component of calcium, not the pure element. In fact, if we were to eat a piece of raw calcium, it would react with the water in our body and corrode our tongue and esophagus. At first when I was doing my research, I thought maybe it was the calcium content in cows’ milk that causes GERD sufferers are directed to not drink milk because even though it may feel good going down, it can raise the acidity of the stomach by reducing the initial pH levels. The high fat and protein content then sits in the stomach, indigestible and petrifies. Delightful, though, then it causes more reflex. Skim milk is supposed to be a bit better but not perfect. (acidrefluxatoz.com)
Why does the body need calcium? Strong bones, of course! Calcium does in fact build our bodies to be strong (remember it’s used in cement) but it does do so much more. Our bones are composed of calcium phosphate and a protein matrix. Our teeth (not a bone because these contain collagen, a protein, but not teeth) are the hardest part of our bodies, containing 99% minerals, mostly a calcium called ‘dentin’. Additionally, our bodies need Ionized Calcium (ca++) for muscle contractions, and in regulating cardiac functions such as with heartbeats. It also influences nerve and cell membranes and the release of neurotransmitters to list a few more. Basically it is essential to life as a human.
What happens if we don’t digest enough calcium? There’s a condition many people outside the medical profession don’t know called ‘Hypocalcemia’. This is simply a deficiency of calcium found in the blood. It’s a silent condition, as many do not know they are suffering. Some symptoms can be confusion, tingling in lips, fingers and muscle cramps. (Info from Mayo Clinic) These symptoms are very common during pregnancy as a growing fetus utilizes calcium from the mother’s bones if enough is not consumed. It’s important for pregnant mothers to take calcium supplements if she starts to have repeated muscle cramps in the legs, signs of severe fatigue and depression. Children can also have the same symptoms and calcium with magnesium is usually prescribed. Supplements are usually suggested at this stage because there’s already a higher amount of deficiency, hence the supplements will stimulate retention and helps with less excretion. Osteoporosis, another condition which is caused by calcium deficiency causing the bones to become weak and even brittle. This condition is seen 4x more in woman than in men. Remember this is a silent deficiency, so although modern medicine is reducing this condition, it’s said 40% of bone mass must be lost before common x-rays can detect the deficiency. What’s even worse is osteoporosis can’t be cured, treatments can help but will not be cured. This is why many caution of the severity having the daily calcium amount as many don’t find out about the deficiency until it’s too late and a bone fracture has occurred. Good news is a diet history and/or blood and nutritional tests may trigger medical professionals in seeing an early deficiency. There are some other theories which suggest calcium deficiency may cause ‘toxemia’ (otherwise known as ‘preeclampsia’) during pregnancy, anxiety, hyperkinesis, otosclerosis, and the possibility of multiple sclerosis with a deficiency during puberty. But, these are theories and no sound evidence has been conducted in research studies. Mild deficiencies are said to cause brittle nails, irritability, parenthesis, muscle twitching, nerve sensitivity, palpitations, insomnia, confusion and/or the feeling of chronic depression.
How do we lose calcium? Losing calcium in the body is an old person’s thing, right? Wrong! It can actually occur at any age, truth be told, newborns can be found with the deficiency straight from the mothers’ womb. As more research comes out, we hear suggestions of our bodies requiring even more of a daily dosage than in previous years. While it may be true that absorption levels reduce with age (hence many senior citizens are diagnosed), it does not mean younger generations do not need to be just as careful.
- We are just not taking in enough calcium daily. Whether it be not liking calcium enriched foods/drinks or not knowing how much to take in a day, we all are just not getting enough to sustain our bodies for the longer lengths of time we are living on earth. Daily requirements are different per person, so here are a few links to see what your body requires per country. USA; AU; UK. (Sorry if I did not link yours, if you need one please let me know.)
- Besides just not taking in enough calcium, we lose or rather don’t retain calcium due to low amounts of Vitamin D. Vitamin D’s hormonal form facilitates calcium absorption sending it directly to ones’ bones and cardiovascular system. Many people are spending more hours inside hiding away from the sunshine and leveling up on technology indoors. Thus, two things are occurring 1. vitamin (more than 20 minutes a day) is not helping in the assistance of absorption and 2. lack of exercise reduces it. So go out for a nice walk in the direct sunshine (no suntan lotion for at least 20 minutes a day), it will cover both of these vices.
- Eating in excess of fats, proteins, salt, and sugars. Fats and proteins in excess can hinder adsorption. Salt intake can lead to excess lose of calcium through urination. Sugar may reduce the reabsorption of calcium and magnesium and cause more to be eliminated. Note: Calcium and magnesium together help function blood, nerves, muscles and tissues, particularly regulating heart and muscle contractions and nerve conductions. So losing these two can be quite dangerous as it is so pivotal to so many bodily functions. Note #2: Salt is also found in soft water that one adds to a filtration system in a household that has hard water. This is high in sodium and low in calcium which then can lead to an increase of cardiovascular disease. Amazingly, hard water (the stuff you try to correct with soft water) contains both calcium and magnesium which protects the heart. So try to eat and drink in moderation.
- Eating too much phosphorus foods which causes a lowering of calcium in the bloodstream. When this happens the body switches over and steals from our bones. Note: Animal flesh (meat) is very high in phosphorus with a ratio of 1/15. It’s an extremely high ratio considering leafy greens have around a 2/1 ratio (calcium to phosphorous). Soft drinks are also a main problem for the same reason. So it is again best to go with fruits and vegetables, if you have to eat animal flesh (meat) do so in moderation.
- Non-Fat Milk has become very popular as it is part of the no-fat diet plan that many are testing out. Unfortunately, this non-fat milk does not help in absorption and may even aid in reducing it. More information: Resource 1; Resource 2.
- Excessive usage of antacids calcium carbonate (chalk), which goes along with phosphorous #4 and acid. Too much calcium in the body can cause heart issues, throat issues and much more. To me this is scary because many medical professionals prescribe calcium lactate and calcium carbonate pills (such as the popular brand, Tums) to people either with stomach/throat issues like GERD and those seeing a loss of calcium already. For the ladder this is true as these calcium rich pills sold over-the-counter for a very low price are alkaline and slowly releases calcium. These are used instead of trying the more natural approach of Vitamin D and magnesium. This is also true for expectant mothers, my sister unknowingly took bottles of the tablets during pregnancy for her low calcium and chronic heart burn issues. She now has kidney issues. Small doses are okay, however it is probably best not to go overboard and do more damage than the discomfort of the current heart burn. More information can be found here on this topic: Resource 1; Resource 2; Resource 3 .
- Stress, something we all have in our lives. It can diminish calcium absorption by causing an increase of stomach acid, digestion and even intestinal motility. Not just for your calcium levels, it is always best to reduce the amount of stress whoever possible.
So now that I have scare all of you completely, I will leave you today with this information and make you wait until tomorrow with the best solutions.
***Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, all information is through deep research in the topic and studies from university. As always, please talk to your medical provider for more information.