Why is Calcium So Important?

We were raised on television commercials reiterating that calcium was vital for strong bones and healthy bodies. "Milk does a body good," stars and athletes would say with a smile. "Got milk?" was another popular slogan. As we learn more about nutrition, we find that this chemical element is, in fact, the most plentiful mineral in the human body, resistant primarily in teeth and bones, but also in nerve cells, body tissues, blood and other body fluids.

So where can you find calcium? Most people instinctively think of milk, cheese and yogurt, as dairy products are the most significant source for this essential mineral. The good thing about deriving your calcium intake from milk is that milk also contains phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin D, which help the body absorb and use the mineral more effectively. What you may not realize is that you can also get this essential chemical element from leafy greens, such as broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, bok choy and turnip greens.

Salmon, sardines, shellfish, almonds, Brazil nuts, fortified soy milk and baked beans are other sources, although you may need to eat a lot to get the kind of levels dairy products contain. A calcium supplement may be taken daily or a few Tums may do the trick. Sometimes, orange juice or bread may have certain calcium levels to help those who are lactose intolerant achieve their daily recommended value.

Healthy calcium levels range depending on age and needs. Babies six months and under need just 210mg or 270mg of calcium for six to twelve months. From one to three years old, the child will then take in 500mg; from four to eight, 800 mg; from nine to eighteen 1300mg; from nineteen to fifty 1,000mg and from 51+ 1,200.

Our bones typically undergo a process of bone breakdown and bone formation. During our childhood, there is more formation so we need less. These processes even-out in our middle years. As we age, there is more bone loss, which is why we need to be more conscientious about our calcium intake in post-menopausal and retirement years.

Hypocalcemia, which is a calcium deficiency, may result from renal failure, stomach surgery or the use of certain diuretics. As a result, patients who can not absorb sufficient calcium may experience numbness in their fingers, muscle cramps, convulsions, lethargy, mental confusion or poor appetite, and in the worst cases, abnormal heart rhythms.

People with this affliction should be under strict doctor supervision and may need to take a special type of calcium supplement to ensure take and absorption. Another concern is osteoporosis, or a loss of bone density, which affects more than 10 million Americans, 80% of whom are women, and leads to broken bones, trouble with mobility and pain.