Calcium is a vital element in the human diet. Calcium supplements are salts of calcium in form of pills usually administered orally. Supplements are commonly required when there is not sufficient calcium in the diet. Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the human body. It makes up about 2% of the total body weight. The majority of calcium; about 99%, exist in the teeth and bones, while the remaining are in the nerve cells, blood, body tissues and other body fluids. Many people are fond of buying calcium pills from the shelf to use in supplementing their calcium requirement.
There is a long controversy concerning its optimal intake, and whether its shortage contributes to bone density loss or osteoporosis. Osteoporosis in literal terms means porous spongy bone. It is a disease in which the concentration of bone is reduced. As bones become more porous and brittle, the risk of crack increases. Bone loss usually occurs subtly and progressively without symptoms until the first crack occurs.
The nutritional supplement is a big market these days; the question is when does it become necessary for you to supplement your calcium needs and how do you go about it? In this article, I am going to be increasing your understanding by answering your question “Do I need calcium supplement”, and how to go about it if needed.
Functions of calcium in the body
- Skeletal structure: Calcium is associated with the growth and maintenance of bones and teeth. Ability to move rapidly and with accurate control is the function of the rigid skeleton. Calcium is the predominant component of bones. Inadequate bone generalization will increase the risk of bone loss and fracture.
- Blood clotting: Calcium is essential for the clotting of blood and transmission of nerve impulses. The blood clotting function is through a web of fibrin combinations and platelets forming around the injured blood vessel.
- Cell growth: Calcium is involved in the regulation of cell division and differentiation.
- Muscle contraction: Calcium helps the muscle to contract effectively through muscles’ response to nerve impulses.
- Protein cofactor: Some enzymes’ activities in the body rely on the presence of adequate calcium concentrations.
Dietary sources of calcium
Dietary sources are by far the best sources of calcium for the body. Important calcium sources include milk and milk products, tofu, calcium-fortified foods and sardine. Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, mustard greens, chard, kale, lettuce and spinach are also rich in calcium; however, the high oxalate content decreases its absorption. Many people use dietary supplements in addition to food sources.
Depletion of calcium store in the body
The body repeatedly replaces the calcium components of the bones. However, when losses occur too rapidly and are not replaced rapidly enough, demineralisation leading to osteoporosis occurs. Osteoporosis affects many people, but women aged 50 and above are at higher risk for the ailment
It is estimated that about half of women population and a quarter of men population will develop bone fracture as a result of osteoporosis.
Children and teenagers also need adequate Calcium in their diets for adequate calcium storage in their bones. Adequate calcium at this stage will help to prevent problems in later years. This is particularly important because the peak for bone mass occurs during the teen years. The calcium content of the bones begins to decrease in young adulthood, and progressive loss continues with an increase in age, particularly in women. Therefore, adequate dietary calcium is necessary to minimize this loss.
Benefits of calcium supplementation
- The use of a calcium supplement can bring about increases in circulating calcium concentrations producing a benefit of up to 7% to bone density, especially in the hip and backbone. The beneficial effect is more pronounced in individuals with very low calcium intakes.
- The use of calcium supplement with vitamin D in population studies has been shown to produce up to 43% decrease in hip fractures. This establishes the fact that calcium and vitamin D are a vital part of the management of osteoporosis.
Concerns with calcium supplementation
Over the past decades, the use of nutritional supplements has become increasingly popular with a corresponding expansion in the market for supplements. This trend is connected with the increase in the incidence of bone demineralisation manifesting in bone fracture, backache, and many bone-related ailments. Recent research findings have highlighted concerns on the use of calcium supplement which may warrant a reconsideration of the use of calcium supplements in the management of bone demineralisation.
- Calcium supplements may produce side effects such as constipation and flatulence of minor intensity.
- The use of calcium supplements may increase urine calcium excretion which is thought to be associated with kidney stone.
- Of greater concern is the deposition of calcium into arterial walls linking calcium supplementation with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Evidence point to the fact that calcium supplements without coadministered vitamin D may be associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction. Since calcium supplements are commonly used, it is thought that the speculated risk of cardiovascular disease might transform into a large burden of disease among users.
The evidence of the connection between calcium intake and bone health in population studies is conflicting. Nevertheless, evidence from other studies shows that there was no adverse effect of calcium plus vitamin D on cardiovascular health. However, the fact remains that a significant component of the osteoporosis which affects so many postmenopausal women is attributable to the inadequacy of calcium intake which is easily preventable. It is clear from studies that calcium supplements without vitamin D administration may present little or no benefit. Therefore, in the use of calcium supplementation, consideration needs to be given to vitamin D administration as well as the form.
Recommended daily requirements for calcium
The recommendation for calcium intake is 1,000 mg per day for men and women between 19-50 years. Postmenopausal and lactating women, need slightly more (1200md/day) to make room for the increased need at this period and to ensure bone health. Given the new concerns that calcium supplements may raise the risk for cardiovascular disease and kidney stones, it is advised that women should aim to meet this recommendation primarily by ensuring they consume a diet rich in calcium. Calcium supplements should only be taken if needed to meet the recommended daily goal. In this wise, approximately 500 mg per day in supplements will be sufficient.
When may calcium supplements be necessary?
- Some people are lactose intolerant, i.e. cannot digest lactose, a natural sugar found in milk and milk products. As a result, such people may not be having enough milk products to supply a substantial amount of their daily calcium requirement. For individuals who are either lactose intolerant or do not like milk and milk products, Calcium supplements may be an alternative.
- Calcium supplementation may become necessary in individuals with problems of calcium absorption or major anomalies in calcium metabolism.
What form of calcium supplement is helpful?
Calcium is absorbed in the small intestine and the efficiency of absorption depends on vitamin D status, age, the calcium content of the meal, phosphate concentration and inhibiting substances in the meal. At low calcium doses, inhibition of absorption tends to be highest. Phosphate and oxalates tend to form poorly soluble complexes with calcium and thereby decrease its absorption. The most effective form is calcium citrate, which is efficiently absorbed in the intestine. A good example is Forever Calcium; the calcium citrate plus vitamin D formulated to supply the body with 100% of the daily recommended dietary intake of Calcium.
It is a fact that calcium contributes largely to bone density and hence bone mineralisation. In response to the question “do I need calcium supplement”, dietary sources remain the best option to replenish the calcium pool in the body. However, when the need arises for calcium supplementation especially when the fracture risk is sufficient to require medical intervention, safe and effective measures should be engaged.
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