Glossary Detail

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name of the term: Calcium

Short introduction

  • Calcium (symbol: Ca) is the most abundant mineral in the human body.
  • About 99% of the calcium in the body is found in bones and teeth and the other 1% in blood and (muscle) cells.

Main natural sources

  • Rich sources include: milk, (frozen) yoghurt and (cottage) cheese.
  • Other sources include: canned sardines and salmon (with bones), collard greens, broccoli, calcium-set tofu. Bread and cereals contain lower amounts of calcium.

Main function

  • Forms the structure of bones and teeth. When calcium combines with phosphorus, they form a structure called hydroxyapatite. This structure provides the strength to bones and teeth.
  • Vitamin D is essential for efficient calcium utilisation in the body: important for bone mineralisation (skeletal integrity) and teeth function.
  • Role in maintaining muscle strength and muscle contraction.
  • Required for proper functioning of many different enzymes.
  • Involved in blood clotting. Calcium works together with vitamin K in the clotting cascade, for example.
  • Normal heart rhythm.

Disease caused by deficiency or excess

  • Hypocalcaemia (low blood calcium): may result from a problem with the parathyroid glands (located in the neck and producing hormones that regulate calcium in blood and within bones), dietary habits or kidney disorders. Symptoms include muscle cramps, depression, forgetfulness, tingling lips, fingers and feet and painful muscles.
  • Dietary calcium is important in building bone mass in children as well as in preventing osteoporosis in adults and the elderly (weak, brittle bones – risk of fractures).
  • Dairy foods can be a good source of bone-supportive nutrients (e.g. calcium). However, during the most critical period for peak bone mass development, adolescents (high income countries) tend to replace milk with soft drinks.
  • Low calcium intake has been identified as a potential contributing factor to obesity.
  • Hypercalcaemia (high blood calcium): may result from a problem with the parathyroid glands, dietary habits, cancer, or disorders affecting bone. Symptoms include digestive problems, frequent urination, high blood pressure and eventually confusion and coma.
  • Calcium, like potassium, may prevent/lower high blood pressure.

Recommended daily intake

Latest Dietary Reference Intakes  (DRIs) 
Institute of Medicine (IOM)

Age categoryPer day
Pregnancy
14 – 18 years
19 – 50 years
1300 mg (RDA)
1000 mg (RDA)
Lactation
14 – 18 years
19 – 50 years
1300 mg (RDA)
1000 mg (RDA)
Infants 6 – 12 months260 mg (AI)
Children
 1 – 3 years
 4 – 8 years
700 mg (RDA)
1000 mg (RDA)
Males
 9 – 13 years
14 – 18 years
19 – 30 years
31 – 50 years
50 – 70 years
> 70 years
1300 mg (RDA)
1300 mg (RDA)
1000 mg (RDA)
1000 mg (RDA)
1200 mg (RDA)
1200 mg (RDA)
Females
 9 – 13 years
14 – 18 years
19 – 30 years
31 – 50 years
50 – 70 years
> 70 years
1300 mg (RDA)
1300 mg (RDA)
1000 mg (RDA)
1000 mg (RDA)
1200 mg (RDA)
1200 mg (RDA)

 

AI = Adequate Intake.
RDA = Recommended Dietary Allowance.


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