Calcium is an essential chemical element for living organisms, the mineral is abundant in the body and very important for good health. It is also an important component of bone health throughout life. The human body needs to consume certain amounts of calcium depending on age to build and maintain strong bones.
Benefits of calcium
The body, bones, heart, muscles and nerves need calcium to function properly. Some studies suggest that calcium and vitamin D together may have additional benefits for bone health, including: prevention of cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. But the evidence regarding these health benefits is inconclusive.
People who do not get enough calcium before the age of 20-25 have a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. This is because calcium is removed from the bones in a preventive way.
Calcium regulates muscle contraction, including the heartbeat. When the nerve stimulates the muscle, calcium is released and helps the muscle proteins to contract. Muscles relax again once calcium is pumped out of the muscle.
Calcium plays an important role in normal blood clotting. The clotting process is a complex one with several steps; a variety of chemicals are involved in this process, and calcium plays a role in several of these steps.
Other effects of calcium
Calcium is a cofactor for many enzymes, which means that without calcium these important enzymes cannot function efficiently. Calcium affects the smooth muscles surrounding blood vessels, causing them to relax.
Symptoms of calcium deficiency
Symptoms of calcium deficiency range from mild to severe and potentially life-threatening, depending on the severity of the deficiency. Common symptoms include:
- Unexpected tooth loss and gum irritation.
- Muscle cramps or recurrent tingling sensation in muscles.
- Burning sensation around the mouth and fingers.
- Extreme tiredness and a general feeling of lethargy.
- Pain in the thighs and arms when walking or moving.
- confusion or poor memory
- dizziness, lightheadedness and headache.
Dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are not the only source of calcium. In fact, there are many types of foods that contain a high percentage of calcium, and the most prominent of these foods are:
When you eat half a cup of soybeans, the body gets 230 milligrams of calcium, making it a suitable alternative to dairy products, including milk, for people following a vegetarian diet.
Almonds are one of the nuts rich in calcium, providing the body with 200 milligrams from just half a cup of almonds, as well as being high in omega-3 acids. However, almonds should be consumed in moderation, as too much leads to weight gain, due to their high calorie and fat content.
Some dark green leafy vegetables are rich in calcium. They include broccoli, spinach, cabbage and watercress, and are high in calcium, fibre, antioxidants, magnesium, potassium and iron.
Like wheat and oats, they play an important role in strengthening bones and protecting against fractures by providing the body with a good dose of the daily calcium requirement.
Sardines are best known for their omega-3 fatty acids, but are also rich in other nutrients, such as calcium, iron, magnesium and vitamin D.