You’ve heard it many times before: Drink milk for strong bones. And while bone health is one of calcium’s main jobs, it’s not the only one. There’s more calcium in your body than any other mineral, and for good reason—it’s needed for many vital bodily functions.
Here’s why it’s important to get your recommended allowance of calcium each day.
Bones and Teeth
A whopping 99 percent of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth, where it helps keep them strong. Your body is constantly in the process of building bone tissue and breaking it down to be used in other cell functions. Up until around age 30, calcium is busy building bones faster than they break down, but as you age the speed of the processes reverses and calcium is taken from your bones faster than it can build them. If you don’t consume enough calcium from the foods you eat, your bones become brittle and osteoporosis may develop.
Every move you make requires calcium, and the calcium you eat is carried to every cell in your body by your blood. When you want to move, the fibers in your skeletal muscles open up, allowing calcium and magnesium to rush in and interact with the proteins that shorten and lengthen to contract and relax your muscles. Without enough calcium and magnesium, your muscles may spasm.
Like other muscles, your heart needs calcium to function. Calcium and sodium circulating in the blood are used to generate and transmit electrical impulses that control the contracting of the heart muscle and the pumping of blood. Low blood calcium levels signal trouble for your heart.
Even the tiniest cut in your skin requires the fast action of calcium. When blood is exposed to air it begins a complex process that relies on the work of calcium and vitamin K to clot, form a scab, and prevent excessive bleeding. So if you want to stop any sort of bleeding, you’ll need plenty of calcium to do it!
Before you can move, your brain must receive and send a signal through your spinal cord to your muscle telling it to contract and relax. Calcium plays a key role in signaling cells to transmit the nerve impulses responsible for movement.
Are You Getting Enough?
Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are great sources of calcium, but this vital mineral is also found in nuts, broccoli, spinach, beans, figs, seaweed, and tofu. The amount of calcium needed each day is different for men and women. Women 50 years old and younger need 1,000 mg a day and women over age 51 need 1,200 mg on a daily basis. Men 70 years old and younger require 1,000 mg of daily intake and men 71 and older need 1,200 mg. If you’re not getting enough calcium, you may need to a supplement.
On top of sufficient calcium, vitamin D is needed to help your body absorb calcium from the foods you eat. It also regulates the amount of calcium circulating in your blood. Unlike calcium, your body makes its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight or you can get vitamin D from foods like fortified milk, cheese, eggs, fish, and fortified cereals.