Calcium plays a role in many of your body’s basic functions. Your body needs calcium in order to circulate blood, move muscles, and release hormones. Calcium also helps carry messages from your brain to other parts of your body.
Calcium is a major part of tooth and bone health as well. It makes your bones strong and dense. You can think of your bones as your body’s calcium reservoir. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take it from your bones.
Your body doesn’t produce calcium, so you have to rely on your diet to get the calcium you need. Foods that are high in calcium include:
- dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
- dark green vegetables such as a kale, spinach, and broccoli
- white beans
- calcium-fortified breads, cereals, soy products, and orange juices
Your body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium. That means you won’t fully benefit from a calcium-rich diet if you’re low on vitamin D.
You can get vitamin D from certain foods, such as salmon, eggs yolks, and some mushrooms. Like calcium, some food products have vitamin D added to them. For example, milk often has added vitamin D.
Sunshine is your best source of vitamin D. Your skin naturally produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Those with darker skin don’t produce vitamin D as well, so supplements may be necessary to avoid deficiency.
Several studies show that calcium may ease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). This study concluded that women with PMS have lower intakes of calcium and magnesium, and lower serum levels.
How do you know if you’re getting enough calcium? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) say that adults should get 1,000 mg every day. For women over 50 and during pregnancy and breast-feeding, NIH recommends 1,200 mg daily.
One cup of skim, low-fat, or whole milk contains about 300 mg of calcium. Check the UCSF’s helpful guide to see how much calcium is in many common foods.
A lack of calcium could lead to other health issues. For adults, too little calcium can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis, or frail and porous bones that easily fracture. Osteoporosis is especially common in older women, which is why the NIH recommends they consume more calcium than their male counterparts.
Calcium is essential for children as they grow and develop. Children who don’t get enough calcium may not grow to their full potential height, or develop other health issues.
Not everyone gets the calcium they need from diet alone. If you’re lactose intolerant, vegan, or just not a fan of dairy products, you may find it difficult to get enough calcium in your diet.
A calcium supplement can help add calcium to your diet. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are the two most recommended forms of calcium supplements.
Calcium carbonate is cheaper and more common. It can be found in most antacid medicines. It needs to be taken with food in order for it to work well.
Calcium citrate doesn’t need to be taken with food and may be better absorbed by older people with lower levels of stomach acid.
Take note that calcium supplements do have side effects. You may experience constipation, gas, and bloating. The supplements may also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb other nutrients or medications. Check with your doctor before starting any supplements.
With any mineral or nutrient, it’s important to get the right amount. Too much calcium can have negative side effects.
Symptoms such as constipation, gas, and bloating may indicate that you’re getting too much calcium.
Extra calcium may also increase your risk of kidney stones. In rare cases, too much calcium can cause deposits of calcium in your blood. This is called hypercalcemia.
Some doctors think that taking calcium supplements can increase your risk of heart disease, but others disagree. At the moment, more research is needed to understand how calcium supplements affect heart health.
Calcium is essential to your overall health. You can get the calcium you need from many different foods, and if necessary, from supplements. Calcium works together with other nutrients such as vitamin D, so it is important keep up a balanced diet. As with any mineral or nutrient, you should monitor your calcium intake so that you aren’t getting too much or too little.