Being the most abundant mineral in the body, it is not surprising that calcium is one of the most emphasized in discussions about minerals. Its abundance is shown by its presence not only in the skeletal system but also in the body fluids. Still, between the skeletal system and body fluids, calcium is more associated with the skeletal system. This is because 99% of all the calcium in the human body is located in the bones (Whitney, Cataldo and Rolfes, 2002). As a matter of fact, it is its principal component and is responsible for its structure, shape and density.
The relationship between calcium and bones however, is usually misconstrued. It is a common misconception that the skeletal system is characterized by stability that maintains its shape and density. This is far from the truth. The bones are always on a continuous process of gaining and losing calcium, and thus, remodeling, depending on the concentration of calcium in the blood. As a rule, the body absorbs or withdraws calcium on needs basis. It is the status of the body that will dictate how much calcium will be retained in the bones. For example, a pregnant woman absorbs as much as 50% of her calcium intake. This is significantly higher compared to the 30% absorption rate in normal people. Likewise, growing children retains more calcium and thus, more bone, compared to how much they lose. Under normal circumstances, calcium is maintained in the bones at a reasonable balance with calcium retention, equalized with calcium loss (Whitney, Cataldo and Rolfes, 2002).
The remaining 1% of the body’s calcium circulates in the body fluids as ionized calcium. This may seem to be small a concentration to be of significant value but this remaining calcium is very crucial in maintaining an array of body processes. It participates in the regulation of muscle contraction. It participates in blood clotting, as well as in enzyme reactions, transmission of nerve impulses, and the secretion of hormones (American Dietetic Association, 2005; Whitney, Cataldo and Rolfes, 2002). In addition, calcium is essential in the regulation and maintenance of normal blood pressure. This is by activating calmodulin, a protein that relays messages from the surface to the inside of the cell (Whitney, Cataldo and Rolfes, 2002).
Given these roles of calcium in the human body, the benefits of adequate calcium intake, as well as the effects of calcium deficiency can already be derived. Calcium’s role as the main component of bones allows the body, protection against future age-related deterioration of bone structure and density (American Dietetic Association, 2005). Its adequate mineralization will allow a denser mineralization that will give the bone its strength and rigidity, especially for maturing bones. In instances when calcium loss exceeds its retention, defects develop. In children, calcium deficiency is a possible cause if there is stunting in growth. In adults, there is the condition characterized by loss in bone density called osteoporosis (Whitney, Cataldo and Rolfes, 2002).
Osteoporosis is a common condition among older women. This condition, unlike other deficiency diseases where simple retake of the lacking vitamin or mineral reverses the condition, does not allow reversion of bone loss. Worse, the condition does not have any symptom that would allow prevention (Whitney, Cataldo and Rolfes, 2002).
While calcium deficiency affects mostly the density of bones, the other body systems are usually affected when there is both calcium toxicity and calcium deficiency. Very high concentration of calcium usually produces constipation, kidney dysfunction and urinary stones, interference with the absorption of other minerals, abnormal muscle contraction and relaxation, and nerve functioning. In particular, blood calcium concentration above normal, produces calcium rigor which causes abnormal muscle contraction and its inability to relax. On the other hand, a below normal blood calcium concentration produces calcium tetany which is also characterized by abnormal muscle contraction (Whitney, Cataldo and Rolfes, 2002).
To minimize the risk of both calcium deficiency and calcium toxicity, countries prescribe a recommended intake for their citizens depending on physiological findings and some cultural factors. In the US, the 1997 Adequate Intake (AI) for calcium for adults between 19-50 years of age is 1000 mg/day, with an upper level of 2500 mg/day (United States National Academy of Sciences, Food and Nutrition Board, 1997). Adequacy is not very difficult to achieve since there is a wide array of foods that are rich in calcium. Among which are milk and milk products, small fish with bones, tofu, greens such as broccoli and chard, and legumes. Oysters are also rich in calcium (American Dietetic Association, 2005).
The cultural differences among countries have given rise to differences in ways of taking calcium. In Western countries, for example, calcium is usually taken as milk or any of its derivative forms. Eastern countries have a rather interesting way of taking in calcium. Here, calcium is usually taken when bones are eaten as part of dishes made of small fish. Bones are eaten either as they are, or prepared from a stock of bones. This way, the bones release adequate amounts of calcium in the stock into the acidic broth, and is taken as fortification for soups, vegetables and rice. These account for Asian calcium intake even without milk as the source (Whitney, Cataldo and Rolfes, 2002).
Mineral waters and tablets are now offered to also provide amounts of calcium. These offer people a very convenient way of accessing calcium anytime without being picky on foods and without the need for any meticulous preparation.
It is indubitable that adequacy in calcium intake is recommended for the general populace to ensure proper functioning of the body systems. Fortunately, there is an array of choices available to suit particular tastes and cultures. Still, although there is much emphasis on particular foods and probably some non-food resources, adequacy in calcium intake, ergo, proper system functioning can only be ensured by taking a balanced diet that supplies a variety of foods, without much discrimination against some food groups.
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