As the most prevalent mineral in our bodies, calcium is an essential part of bones and teeth. It is also critically important to the normal functioning of the heart and other muscles, nerves, and blood-clotting system. About 99% of the body’s store of calcium resides in our bones and teeth.
Calcium-rich foods include milk and dairy products, kale and broccoli, collard/turnip/mustard greens, canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines), and soy products processed with calcium.
Healthy adults require 2000 – 2500 mg of calcium daily. Children and teens require varying amounts ranging from 200 to 3000 mg depending on age and stage of development. Bone development needs in children can make them susceptible to calcium deficiency just as bone maintenance needs can in older people.
Symptoms of calcium deficiency may include:
- highly porous or brittle bones
- defective tooth enamel
- muscle spasms and cramps
- numbness and tingling in the fingers
- abnormal heart rhythms (potentially fatal)
Too much calcium can cause constipation and interfere with the absorption of other minerals, particularly iron and zinc. In some people, it may increase the risk of kidney stone formation.
Calcium can interact with many prescription medications, but sometimes the effects can be minimized by taking calcium at a different time. Substances with which calcium may interact include:
- thyroid hormone replacement medications
- antibiotics (quinolones and tetracyclines)
- antacids containing aluminum or magnesium
- mineral oil and laxatives
- steroid medications such as prednisone
- Vitamin D
- certain minerals such as magnesium, iron, sodium and zinc
- foods high in fiber and caffeine
Healthy individuals can easily meet their calcium needs through dietary means. If you have been advised by your healthcare professional to take a supplement, ask about the timing of taking it if you also take other supplements or medications. It’s best to take a calcium supplement under the direction of an MD, ND or pharmacist.