Calcium is a mineral important for strong bones and teeth. It is also essential for your heart, nerves, muscles, and other body systems to work properly. However, most people in the United States, especially women, do not get enough calcium in their diet. Milk and dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, contain a lot of calcium, but you can also get it from nuts, green leafy vegetables, and calcium-enhanced orange juice. Vitamins such as A, C, D, and E help your body utilize the calcium it derives from food. On the other hand, stress and lack of exercise can harm your calcium balance.
Getting enough calcium can help your body with the following:
- Develop strong bones and teeth
- Prevent osteoporosis and broken bones
- Reduce your blood pressure
- Keep your heart regular
- Reduce cramps and moodiness from premenstrual syndrome
- Reduce irritability, insomnia, depression, and headaches during menopause
- Reduce risks of pregnancy, such as high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia
- Prevent gum disease
- Prevent cancer of the colon and rectum
- Prevent kidney stones
- May be associated with a decrease in body fat
There are many good sources of calcium that you can work into your diet. The richest sources of calcium include cheeses (Parmesan, Romano, Swiss, Provolone, Monterey Jack, Edam, Cheddar, Muenster, Gouda, Colby, Havarti, Fontina, Mozzarella, Feta); wheat-soy flour; blackstrap molasses; and rennin. Other good sources of calcium include almonds, bok choy, Brazil nuts, broccoli, cabbage, caviar, dried figs, greens (dandelion, turnip, collard, mustard, kale), hazelnuts, ice cream, milk, oysters, sardines, soybean flour, and yogurt.
You can also get calcium from many herbs, spices, and seaweeds (for example, basil, chervil, cinnamon, dill weed, fennel, fenugreek, ginseng, kava kava, kelp, marjoram, oregano, parsley, poppy seed, sage, and savory).
Calcium is available in many forms for supplementation. Lead has been found in some types, so use caution when choosing a product. Lead can harm the brain and kidneys, and can reduce red blood cell production. Children are most at risk for lead poisoning. The following are some of the available forms of calcium:
- Microcrystalline hydroxyapatite concentrate (MCHC). MCHC is an excellent source of bioavailable calcium and other nutrients important for maintaining bone health. Because MCHC is derived from whole bone, it is complete with the minerals and organic factors naturally found in raw bone. MCHC has been shown to be well-tolerated, even by small children, with no undesirable side effects.
- Calcium citrate. This is the most easily used form of calcium. Lead levels are safe.
- Calcium carbonate. This type is less expensive, and lead levels are safe if it is refined.
- Calcium gluconate. This type is safe.
- Calcium lactate. This is another safe form.
- Calcium chloride. This is not recommended because it irritates the gastrointestinal tract.
You should be cautious with products that may contain harmful levels of lead. These include unrefined calcium carbonate from oyster shells or limestone, bone meal, and Dolomite.
Supplementation should be considered only under the guidance of your healthcare professional; this is particularly true for children. If calcium supplements are used, they should be taken in small doses throughout the day with 6 to 8 cups of water over that time course to avoid constipation.
Talk with your provider about your calcium needs if you have any thyroid or kidney problems, take prescription medications, or if you have hormone or vitamin deficiencies.