Calcium is extremely important to the human body. Women have an even greater need to receive quality calcium to meet their dietary requirements. The majority (99%) of the calcium we take in goes to build strong bones, teeth, and jaw bone. The rest goes to tissues and into the blood. Calcium is important to thousands of functions in the body including: regulating muscle function; muscle contraction and relaxation; regulating heart function by controlling the contraction of the heart as it pumps blood; needed to maintain a healthy blood pressure; helps the blood to clot normally; helps the nerves to transmit their messages to other nerves; is involved in healthy enzyme function; needed for normal kidney function; helps to prevent colon cancer; and helps to maintain normal cholesterol levels.
Calcium deficiency leads to osteoporosis, loss of bone in the jaw, and hypertension. Other calcium deficiency symptoms include: arm and leg muscle spasms; back and leg cramps (Charlie horse); brittle bones; severe stomach cramps and pain during menstruation; and rickets.
Not All Calcium Is Created Equal: Just because you take a calcium supplement, does not mean you absorb it. Calcium has to be ‘bio-available’ to the cells. It’s like having a can of food with no can opener. The calcium has to be present in a form the body can utilize. The various kinds of calcium greatly differ in their usability by the body. One of the key points in choosing a calcium supplement is the ‘elemental calcium’ or usable calcium present in the formula.
Problems with calcium absorption: Calcium is harder to digest than some of the other minerals. Its absorption depends on several factors including certain foods we eat, the health and function of the stomach and intestines, and the presence of Vitamin D.
Most people think that calcium is absorbed in the stomach acid. Calcium is broken down in the stomach by stomach acid, and then moves through the small intestine. In the intestine, it is actually mainly absorbed in the duodenum. It must be absorbed before the alkaline bile in the small intestine renders the intestinal environment too alkaline for the calcium to be absorbed. If this does not happen, the calcium will pass through without being used. The elemental calcium present in the supplement must go through this digestive process to be ionized or bio-available to your body. By the time this process takes place, you may end up with only 5% to 14% of usable calcium depending on the type of calcium.
Tablets are much harder to break down in the stomach than capsules for most people. So if you don’t have enough stomach acid to break calcium down in the stomach it causes problems. If your intestines are not working effectively you won’t absorb it. If the supplement is not in a form that is easily broken down, you won’t absorb it correctly. If you are deficient in Vitamin D, the calcium will not be absorbed. These factors are why women take calcium but are not getting the full value of the supplement. My mother took cheap calcium supplements for years while her Osteoporosis got worse. She would not listen or look at the evidence that her Oyster Shell Calcium was not being effectively used by her compromised body. I never did get her to change her mind. She was stuck on price. She fell several times and her back was severely bent over.
Calcium and Medicine Don’t Mix Well: Tums, antacids and acid-blocking drugs hinder calcium absorption because they create an alkaline state in the stomach. Calcium needs stomach acid to be broken down. Calcium can be a problem when taken with antibiotics, iron, and other medications. The calcium binds with the prescription drug thereby reducing the effects of the medication.
Excess Zinc also interferes with calcium absorption. You might recall the headlines about OTC products like Denture Cream which had zinc in the ingredients to help bind the denture to the roof of the mouth. The denture creams were causing zinc imbalances and were recalled. Excess zinc impedes calcium absorption.
The Role of the Parathyroid Glands: Located behind the thyroid gland in your neck, their only role is to control how much calcium goes to bone construction and how much goes into the blood. If they are not functioning properly, you will have a Calcium imbalance (Hyperparathyroidism).
Problem Foods and Diets: Some foods contain oxalic acid which binds with calcium making the calcium unable to be absorbed. Foods with oxalic acid include Swiss chard, spinach, beet greens, cocoa, soybeans, cashews, and kale. High phosphate diets which include excessive red meat and carbonated soft drinks hinder calcium absorption. High fat diets are a problem because they cause deficient bile production. Caffeine drinks cause the kidneys to expel Calcium at a higher rate. So does excessive alcohol. This increases your need for Calcium.
Age Related Problems: After age 60 you produce only 25% of the stomach acid you did when you were 20. In Menopause it is estimated that 40% of the women do not have enough stomach acid to digest calcium supplements. After 45, in both male and females there tends to be insufficient hydrochloric acid to break down the calcium in the stomach. In the aged this becomes much worse. In many cases the function of both the stomach acid and intestines is greatly impacted. They may not be able to absorb enough calcium to prevent falls and fractures.
Anyone with stomach problems or intestinal compromise will also be unable to absorb calcium properly. Those of you taking antacids on a regular basis will absorb little Calcium because of the alkaline environment you are creating in your stomach. The Calcium in Tums is not able to be digested because of the alkaline environment in the stomach. It does calm the stomach acid effectively for many. Many of you have problems with digestion because you lack sufficient stomach acid to break down your food. Try taking a digestive enzyme with meals for a different approach. You might be surprised with the results. Food allergies for many is caused by insufficient digestive enzymes and eating too fast, not chewing your food properly.
Calcium Supplements: Supplements such as bone meal, oyster shell, and calcium carbonate are very difficult to digest. They have the least usable calcium. They may contain lead and heavy metals. They may be cheap but a poor choice for Calcium intake.
The most usable Calcium supplements include Calcium Citrate, Calcium Lactate, and Microcrystalline Hydroxyapatite Concentrate (MCHC).