Calcium: Not Your Average Mineral

Jan 16, 2023

Katie Breazeale, MS, RD, LD

 

I heard a lot about calcium growing up as a young female that played tennis. Like any athlete in high school, you had to have a yearly physical and every year I heard about my lack of calcium intake. My doctor even put me on those little chocolate calcium chews. The truth is I hate milk and I hate yogurt, particularly the texture. Building up bone mineral density is important through your childhood and teens, and I was doing a poor job at it. 

 

Calcium is more than just bone health though which I didn’t know as a teenager. No one told me it is more than just that! Calcium affects your bones, muscle contractions, blood clotting, and your heart rate. 

 

Calcium is a mineral and while it is found 99% in your bones, 1% is found in your blood, tissues, and muscle. 1% sounds tiny, but when it comes to the human body 1% matters. 

 

Your thyroid is going to help regulate your calcium and body’s balance. The parathyroid hormone produced by the thyroid glands helps maintain the right balance of calcium in the bloodstream and in tissues that depend on calcium for proper functioning. This is important to consider if you are deficient or excessive in calcium amounts. There is a chance you ate, exercised, and supplemented correctly, but the thyroid is not functioning normally. 

 

Calcium plays a major role with muscle contractions. Inside the muscle, calcium facilitates the interaction between actin and myosin during contractions. Excess calcium can cause your muscles to twitch. Whereas low calcium levels may cause the muscles to cramp. Your heart is also a muscle. Too much calcium can cause your heartrate to increase. 

 

Bone mineral density is best to build in our youth as we reach the peak amount by age 30. How do we get calcium? We might say there are two things we can do to improve our bone mineral density. 1. Consume adequate sources of calcium daily. Two build stronger bones through weight bearing exercises.  Because bone is living tissue, it changes over time in response to the forces placed upon it. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by building more bone and becoming denser.

 

Calcium does come in supplemental form if you are like me and hate the primary forms of calcium like milk and yogurt. There are a few guidelines to keep in mind if you are planning to take a calcium supplement.

  1. Calcium and iron do not go together. Iron inhibits the absorption of calcium when taken together. 

  2. Calcium and hypothyroidism medications cannot be taken together. They decrease the absorption of the medication. This includes calcium-based antacids. 

  3. Calcium and vitamin D go great together! Vitamin D enhances the absorption of calcium.

 

Are calcium supplements needed? Not always, but there are some cases that it is beneficial.

  • Vegan diet

  • Have lactose intolerance and limit dairy products

  • Consume large amounts of protein or sodium, which can cause your body to excrete more calcium

  • Are receiving long-term treatment with corticosteroids

  • Have certain bowel or digestive diseases that decrease your ability to absorb calcium, such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease

  • Are receiving treatment for their thyroid

  • Postmenopausal women

  • Females with amenorrhea

 

Calcium plays an important role in our health. Look for high calcium food items to increase your calcium consumption. If you fall into one of the higher risk groups for being calcium deficient look into finding out your lab value and creating the right plan for your health. 

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