What Is Calcium?

Calcium is a mineral and is one of the most abundant ones found in the human body. Calcium helps to keep our teeth and bones strong and healthy. Around 99% of the calcium in the body is found in our bones, while the rest, known as free or ionised calcium, circulates in the blood.[1]

What Role Does It Play in The Body?

Calcium intake is important particularly during childhood and adolescence as it has an important role in attaining peak bone mass. A childhood lack of calcium cannot be made up in adulthood. During adulthood, our calcium intake has a big influence on the level of age-related bone loss.[2] Inadequate calcium intake can lead to osteoporosis.

Calcium is also important for other functions, too. For example, adequate calcium intake means our heart, muscles and nerves all work properly.[3]

The absorption of calcium from the intestines is dependent on vitamin D.[4] If the body doesn’t have enough vitamin D, then it is unable to produce the hormone responsible for calcium absorption, calcitriol. This, in turn, leads to inadequate calcium absorption. Therefore, it is important that we get a good supply of both vitamin D and calcium.

Too much calcium or hypercalcaemia, on the other hand, can be a sign of an underlying health condition such as hyperparathyroidism, hyperthyroidism, vitamin D intoxication, tuberculosis, diuretic intake or cancer. Most of the free calcium circulating in the blood is bound to a protein called albumin. Therefore, your albumin level also needs to be considered when your calcium levels are tested.

How Does Calcium Affect My Wellbeing?

If your calcium levels are low then this can cause various symptoms, including:

  • Confusion/memory loss
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Cramping of muscles
  • Muscle spasms
  • Tingling/pins and needles in hands and feet
  • Your bones may fracture easily

 

Hypercalcaemia[5] or high calcium levels may cause symptoms such as:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Confusion
  • Bone pain
  • Dehydration

How Can I Improve My Result?

High levels of calcium may be an indication of another health condition which should be ruled out by your GP. If your levels are low or you just want to maintain your current healthy level, then this can be achieved through diet and exercise.

Diet

If your calcium levels are low, some research claims the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and a reduction in sodium (salt) intake could benefit bone health.[6] The DASH diet is a lifelong commitment and is focused on foods which are low in sodium such as whole grains, vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy products. It is low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol.[7]

Good sources of calcium for general consumption include:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yoghurt
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Soya beans
  • Tofu
  • Bread made with fortified flour

You may decide to supplement your intake of calcium, too. You may need to consider vitamin D supplements as well, but you should consult your GP first.

Exercise

Physical activity is an important factor in keeping our bones healthy. It helps to keep our bones strong and reduces the chance of falling over.

Some good examples include:

  • Walking
  • Resistance band exercises
  • Gardening
  • Weightlifting
  • Using cross training machines

Perhaps surprisingly people who already have osteoporosis should still partake in regular exercise to help strengthen their bones and reduce the risk of fracture. You should avoid high-impact exercise but if you are otherwise fit and healthy you should continue with physical activities.

 


[1] Lab Tests Online UK. (2018). Calcium Test. Available at: https://labtestsonline.org.uk/tests/calcium-test

[2] Strӧhle, A., Hadji, P and Hahn, A. (2015). Calcium and Bone Health – Goodbye, Calcium Supplements? Climacteric: 18, pp 702-714.

[3] NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases – National Resource Center. Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age. Available at: https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/nutrition/calcium-and-vitamin-d-important-every-age

[4] Christakos, S., Dhawan, P and Seth, T. (2011). Vitamin D and Intestinal Calcium Absorption. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology: 347(1-2), pp 25-29.

[5] Minisola, S., Pepe, J., Piemonte, S and Cipriani, C. (2015). The Diagnosis and Management of Hypercalcaemia. BMJ: 350.

[6] Lin, P, H., Ginty, F., Appel, L, J et al., The DASH Diet and Sodium Reduction Improve Markers of Bone Turnover and Calcium Metabolism in Adults. The Journal of Nutrition: 133(10), pp 3130-3136.

[7] Diabetes Digital Media. (2018). DASH Diet – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet. Available at: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diet/dash-diet.html