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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diet and Nutrition > Calcium
      Category : Health Centers > Food, Nutrition, and Metabolism


Overview & Description | Functions and Sources

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It is well known for its key role in maintaining strong teeth and bones. The teeth and bones contain 99 percent of the calcium in the body. The remaining 1% is found in the body's fluids and cells. The body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium. Calcium works closely with magnesium, zinc, fluoride, and phosphorus. It also helps to maintain proper heart function, nerve transmission, and blood clotting. Complex processes control the amount of calcium in the blood. When there is too little of it in the blood, hormones pull it from the bones to meet the body's demands.


New recommendations released in 1997 state that:

  • adults age 19 through 50 need 1,000 mg of calcium each day
  • people aged 51 and older should get 1,200 mg a day
  • The quotas for some age groups were raised from earlier levels. This action was in response to new knowledge about calcium's role in the prevention of osteoporosis. It's estimated that the average adult gets only 500 to 700 mg of calcium daily.

    The goal for all people should be to get the recommended amount of calcium each day. However, calcium intake should not exceed 2,500 mg per day. Getting too much calcium can cause harmful deposits in the kidneys and heart. High intake can also reduce the absorption of zinc and iron; impair vitamin K metabolism, and encourage the loss of calcium from the bones.

    There are many supplements on the market for people who have a hard time getting enough calcium through diet alone. To be stable and absorbable, calcium in supplements is always paired with another compound. Calcium citrate and calcium citrate-malate are usually the best absorbed. Calcium carbonate, the type of calcium common in antacids, is more concentrated. It often costs less than other compounds. It is wise to avoid supplements with dolomite or bone meal because they may also contain small amounts of lead, which can be very harmful. Calcium supplements should be taken with meals to help the body absorb them. They should not be taken at the same time as iron supplements, because calcium blocks the absorption of iron. If a person needs more than one tablet per day, the extra pills should be spread out through the day and not taken all at one time. One should drink plenty of fluids with calcium supplements to avoid constipation. Taking a calcium supplement with milk can help enhance absorption because of the lactose and vitamin D in milk.

    Calcium supplements should not be used as a substitute for healthy food choices. They should only be used to supplement the diet. To increase calcium from foods in the diet, individuals can:

  • include yogurt with breakfast
  • drink a glass of milk with each meal
  • use milk in coffee or tea instead of creamer
  • add low-fat cheese to sandwiches or salads
  • check food labels for calcium content
  • add tofu to casseroles
  • drink orange juice fortified with calcium for breakfast or as a snack


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    Calcium: Functions and Sources

    Author: Clare Armstrong, MS, RD
    Reviewer: Kathleen A. MacNaughton, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 10/14/02

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