Calcium is a nutrient that all living organisms need, including humans. It is the most abundant mineral in the body, and it is vital for bone health.
Humans need calcium to build and maintain strong bones, and 99% of the body’s calcium is in the bones and teeth. It is also necessary for maintaining healthy communication between the brain and other parts of the body. It plays a role in muscle movement and cardiovascular function.
Calcium occurs naturally in many foods, and food manufacturers add it to certain products. Supplements are also available.
Alongside calcium, people also need vitamin D, as this vitamin helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamin D comes from fish oil, fortified dairy products, and exposure to sunlight.
This article looks at why the body needs calcium, which foods are rich in calcium, what happens if the body does not have enough, and the pros and cons of taking supplements.
Calcium plays various roles in the body. These include the following:
1. Bone Health
Around 99% of the calcium in the human body is in the bones and teeth. Calcium is essential for the development, growth, and maintenance of bone.
As children grow, calcium contributes to the development of their bones. After a person stops growing, calcium continues to help maintain the bones and slow down bone density loss, which is a natural part of the aging process.
Females who have already experienced menopause can lose bone density at a higher rate than males or younger people. They have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, and a doctor may recommend calcium supplements.
2. Muscle Contraction
Calcium helps regulate muscle contraction. When a nerve stimulates a muscle, the body releases calcium. The calcium helps the proteins in muscle carry out the work of contraction.
When the body pumps the calcium out of the muscle, the muscle will relax.
3. Cardiovascular System
Calcium plays a key role in blood clotting. The process of clotting is complex and has a number of steps. These involve a range of chemicals, including calcium.
Calcium’s role in muscle function includes maintaining the action of the heart muscle. Calcium relaxes the smooth muscle that surrounds blood vessels. Various studies have indicated a possible link between high consumption of calcium and lower blood pressure.
Vitamin D is also essential for bone health, and it helps the body absorb calcium. Find out more about vitamin D and why we need it.
Calcium is a co-factor for many enzymes. Without calcium, some key enzymes cannot work efficiently.
Studies have also suggested that consuming enough calcium can result in:
- a lower risk of developing conditions involving high blood pressure during pregnancy
- lower blood pressure in young people
- lower blood pressure in those whose mothers who consumed enough calcium during pregnancy
- improved cholesterol values
- a lower risk of colorectal adenomas, a type of non-cancerous tumor