Know Your Minerals: Calcium
Do you know your Minerals: Calcium? Calcium is probably the most well-known – yet least understood – mineral discussed in the media. For decades, we have been told that calcium is needed for strong bones and that you get it from drinking and eating more dairy. End of story. But actually, that is just the beginning of the story. And dairy is not the only efficient source of calcium.
What is Calcium?
Calcium is a mineral required by the human body for many functions. It is considered an “essential” mineral because it must be acquired from food. There are vitamins, for example, that the body can manufacture itself. These are considered nonessential. Because minerals are basic atomic particles, the body cannot make them. It is “essential” that they are obtained from food.
The human body holds a great deal of calcium. In fact, about 2 percent of your body weight is all calcium! Calcium is mostly stored in the bones and teeth and the rest is found in blood and tissues.
What Does Calcium Do?
Calcium is about much more than bone strength. While the bone matrix of the skeleton must have ample amounts of calcium to maintain its integrity, calcium plays many other roles.
An important type of calcium in the body is its ionized form. This is a positively charged particle of calcium that plays an important role in muscle contractions and nerve impulses. Since the heart is a muscle, these calcium ions are essential for the continued, regular beating of the heart in addition to the function of skeletal muscles throughout the body.
Another big role of calcium is that of maintaining the appropriate pH of the blood. Human blood must walk a narrow pH line between 7.35 and 7.45. When blood pH nears those upper or lower limits, calcium is either released from bone into the bloodstream or returned to bone to keep pH within those healthy parameters.
Signs and symptoms of calcium deficiency are not typically resolved by simply increasing calcium intake. Indeed, most people get plenty of calcium in their diets, yet can still show signs of deficiency. This is possible because many factors play a role in calcium absorption and assimilation. Without good levels of needed cofactors, calcium cannot be used fully and efficiently. It can fall into patterns of dysfunction. If you are concerned with your calcium levels or are taking a calcium supplement, consider these cofactors:
Good levels of this hormone-like vitamin are necessary for absorption of calcium from foods into the digestive tract. This is why milk is often fortified with Vitamin D, however, it is often a sub-par synthetic version. Greater sun exposure is the best source, but a high-quality supplement of cholecalciferol (D3) may be needed.
This important fat-soluble vitamin is found in dark leafy greens, liver and egg yolks, and is produced by gut bacteria in the large intestine. It plays a role in shuttling calcium through the body. Low levels result in the calcification of the blood vessels as seen in atherosclerosis.
This mineral must be in balance with calcium. An ideal ratio is 1:1 in the diet. The Standard American Diet – full of processed and preserved foods and sodas – sometimes provides up to five times that level of phosphorus. This kind of phosphorus intake acidifies the blood and causes overall calcium loss to buffer the imbalance. In this way, high intake of sodas and processed foods cause weakening of the bones that cannot be easily remediated by calcium supplementation alone. The diet and digestive function must be corrected in order to utilize a higher calcium intake.
Calcium initiates muscle contraction and its partner magnesium initiates muscle relaxation. Without magnesium, there would only be contraction – which is a muscle cramp. In addition, without the balance of magnesium, high calcium intake can cause kidney stones, soft tissue calcification and bone spurs.
The body’s ability to access dietary calcium is a significant limiting factor. The mineral must be liberated from its food source via stomach acid to be accessible. Most Americans have poor stomach acid production from a history of nutrient-poor diets and stressful, distracted eating practices. Without enough acid, calcium will stay bound to other particles and be unavailable for absorption into the body.
Regular moderate exercise encourages the formation of health bone tissue by signaling appropriate calcium uptake in the bones.
Getting the cofactors of healthy calcium metabolism and function in order are the most important steps to protecting your bones and health. If calcium intake is still a concern, there are many food sources available to increase your levels. Dairy – especially goat milk and Swiss cheese – are good sources, but skim milk reduces the ability to absorb calcium. Dark leafy greens such as collards, nuts – particularly almonds, and seafood such as sardines and salmon contain notable levels of calcium. Some beans and grains are another source, but to avoid phytates, they should be in a whole form and soaked overnight. Phytates – an antioxidant compound – bind to calcium, rendering it unavailable. Calcium deficiency has been a big media headline for years and the dairy industry has broadcast the issue with reckless abandon. Problems with calcium, however, are truly best remedied with a holistic lifestyle and diet approach, not an isolated supplementation plan. Balanced nutrient intake through whole foods, optimized digestion and an active lifestyle are the best measures to take for strong bones and a healthy life.
This information is for educational purposes only and should not be used as medical advice.
Weatherby, D. (2004). Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective. Bear Mountain Publishing, Jacksonville.
Haas, E. M. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Celestial Arts, Berkeley
Editor’s Note: Sara Kennedy is a certified nutritional therapy consultant. She is the owner of Renegade Wellness found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/paleoalaska. Reach her online at www.thriveak.com.