Among all of the minerals, calcium is one of the most well-known.
You probably already know that calcium is beneficial for your bone health, but what are the other benefits of calcium?
We’ll explore 5 benefits of calcium in this article and offer guidance on how much calcium you need to get in your diet each day.
What is calcium?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body and the fifth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Calcium is found naturally in many foods, and it’s also added to dietary supplements and over-the-counter treatments due to its numerous health benefits.
When it’s used in supplements, calcium is found in many forms depending on what it’s bound to. Some of the most common forms of calcium include calcium citrate, calcium carbonate, calcium gluconate, and calcium lactate.
What is calcium used for?
Calcium plays many roles in your body and has numerous health benefits. It helps promote bone health, plays a large role in muscle contraction, aids in circulation, and influences hormone production. Calcium also contributes to normal electrical signals, which allow your heart to beat normally.
Calcium is used in antacids because it’s alkaline, which is the opposite of acidic. It helps neutralize acidic stomach acid that causes heartburn symptoms.
Some foods are fortified or enriched with calcium in order to help meet your daily calcium requirements, meaning they have calcium added to them.
How much calcium do we need per day?
The amount of calcium required varies depending on your age.
Adult men and women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. Calcium requirements increase a bit to 1,200 milligrams daily for women over 50. Men require 1,200 milligrams of calcium once they’re over 70.
Because they’re growing rapidly, children between the ages of 9-18 need 1,300 milligrams of calcium daily for both males and females.
Getting too much calcium can lead to calcium toxicity (hypercalcemia). One type of condition caused by too much calcium is called milk-alkali syndrome. Having milk-alkali syndrome can harm your kidneys and cause your body to be more alkaline than it should, disrupting its normal pH levels.
The upper limit of calcium (the highest amount known not to cause any adverse symptoms) is 2,500 milligrams daily from food and supplements combined. Too much calcium can negatively impact your kidney function.
Some signs of calcium toxicity include:
- Abdominal pain
- Bone pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle twitching
- Nausea & vomiting
Signs of low calcium levels
You can have moderately low calcium levels in your bloodstream without it causing any symptoms. Symptoms are more likely to develop once your calcium levels have been low for a long time.
Some signs of low calcium levels include:
- Dry, scaly skin
- Brittle nails
- Coarse hair
- Muscle cramps (especially in the backs of your legs)
In younger people, signs of low calcium can include:
- Muscle twitches
- Poor feeding
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty walking or using hands
Prolonged low calcium can lead to psychological issues like confusion, memory loss, delirium, depression, and hallucinations.
Osteoporosis, a condition that results in weak, fragile bones, might arise from prolonged low calcium intake. Other health conditions that can arise from low calcium intake are rickets and osteomalacia, which cause soft, weak bones in children and adults, respectively.
5 health benefits of calcium
Below, we discuss 5 key benefits of calcium.
1) Supports bone health
Along with vitamin D (which helps your body absorb calcium), calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth. Calcium makes up around 40% of your bones’ weight. Much of the enamel in your teeth is made of calcium as well (1, 2).
Osteoblasts are cells that help build the matrix in your bones. Another type of cell called osteoclasts break down bone in preparation for new bone to be formed, a process called resorption and remodeling. Both osteoblasts and osteoclasts use calcium to help facilitate these processes (3).
Calcium helps prevent bone loss and osteoporosis, which tend to happen later in life. According to meta-analyses of scientific studies, calcium supplementation can reduce bone loss by up to 1.2% and reduce the risk of fracture in older people by at least 10%. (4)
If you’re a woman who has gone through menopause, your risk for bone fracture and osteoporosis is increased, and you need to pay extra attention to how much calcium you get in your diet.
Estrogen deficiency from menopause increases the rate of bone resorption, which means bones are broken down and their minerals released into your bloodstream.
In order to obtain the most bone health-related benefits, be sure to take in enough vitamin D from foods and/or supplements. Most adults need 600-800 IU per day.
2) Helps prevent kidney stones
Kidney stones, also called renal calculi, occur when minerals and salts form solid masses inside your kidneys. Kidney stones can be very painful to pass.
The most common types of kidney stones are calcium oxalate stones. You might think that you should avoid calcium to prevent calcium oxalate stones, but that’s the opposite of the truth.
Calcium helps bind to oxalates, which reduces your risk of developing calcium oxalate kidney stones. Eating enough calcium can help support normal calcium levels and might help you avoid kidney stones.
3) Heart health
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease (heart disease). High blood pressure can also lead to circulation problems, kidney disease, and other issues.
According to a study, calcium supplementation helped reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels (5). In people with lower calcium intakes, the reduction in blood pressure was even more significant.
Another study summarized that adequate calcium intake could be protective against vascular disease and stroke (6). However, some studies have associated calcium supplementation with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in some people.
For instance, according to a meta-analysis, calcium supplementation increased the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 15% in healthy postmenopausal women (7).
Getting too much calcium through supplementation might cause calcification of your arteries, which can block blood flow and cause a heart attack or stroke (8).
The bottom line is that there probably isn’t much benefit of calcium supplementation if you’re already eating enough calcium in your diet.
4) Weight management
Many calcium-rich foods are high in protein (such as dairy products), which can boost satiety. This is one reason calcium intake might help prevent overweight and obesity.
Data was collected from six observational studies and three clinical trials for analysis in a summary (9). For every 300 milligrams of calcium consumed, body weight was one kilogram less in children and 2.5-3 kilograms less in adults.
The study using the above data concluded that increasing calcium by two servings a day could reduce the risk of being overweight by as much as 70%.
5) Might reduce your risk of certain cancers
Colon cancer risk is about 4% for men and women. Higher calcium intake is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer, according to a study (10).
However, high calcium intake (above the daily recommended amount) might increase the risk of prostate cancer (11). Therefore, it’s always a good idea to ask your healthcare provider if you’re a good candidate for taking a calcium supplement.
What foods are high in calcium?
Your body doesn’t produce calcium, so you must get it from your diet.
Some of the best sources of calcium are from animal products, but there are plenty of plant-based calcium sources suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
1) Dairy products
Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, and cheese, are among some of the richest calcium food sources. For example, one cup of 2% cow’s milk provides around 30% of your daily calcium needs.
Many types of cow’s milk are fortified with vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium better.
2) Fortified foods and drinks
If you don’t drink cow’s milk, you can still get a hefty dose of calcium through fortified products like non-dairy milk. Calcium is added to almond, soy, coconut, other milk alternatives, and certain foods like cereals.
To assess whether a food or drink is a good source of calcium, check the nutrition facts label. It should provide at least 20% of the daily value for calcium to be considered an excellent source.
3) Dark green leafy vegetables
Dark leafy green vegetables are a great source of plant-based calcium. Collard greens are the richest source of calcium among other types of leafy greens and contain 175 milligrams of calcium per half-cup serving.
Other calcium-rich greens include kale and spinach, which contain more available calcium when cooked than raw.
4) Nuts and seeds
Not only are nuts and seeds great sources of protein, fiber, and healthy unsaturated fats, but they also contain calcium.
One cup of almonds provides 246 milligrams of calcium per cup, and one ounce of sesame seeds provides 22% of the daily value for calcium. Poppy seeds are another good source of calcium, with 127 milligrams of calcium per tablespoon.
5) White beans
Not all legumes are good sources of calcium. However, white beans are an especially good source. One cup of white beans provides around 160 milligrams of calcium, or around 16% of the daily value for most people.
A half-cup of soybeans contains 230 milligrams of calcium, which is around 20% of the daily requirement for most people.
Soybean-based products are also rich in calcium, such as tofu (434 mg per ½ cup) and tempeh (184 mg per cup). They are also excellent sources of plant-based protein for vegans and vegetarians to meet their protein and calcium needs.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body and is primarily found in your bones and teeth. Most people need around 1,000-1,200 milligrams of calcium daily, which you have to obtain through your diet or supplements because your body doesn’t make calcium.
Too much calcium can be problematic, so be sure to discuss calcium supplementation with your healthcare provider to assess the potential benefits and risks.
You can get enough calcium in your diet by eating dairy products, dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and certain types of beans.