Your body uses calcium to perform a number of essential functions. This vital mineral does far more than strengthen teeth and bones.
Calcium's Role in the Body
Calcium is a mineral plentiful in many of the foods you eat. A calcium-rich diet is essential to good health. This mineral performs many cellular support functions in the body.
Strengthening Bones and Teeth
Because it is a hard mineral, calcium provides the structure of teeth and bones. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes calcium is your body's most abundant mineral, with about 99 percent of your body's stores strengthening your bones and teeth. Intake of sufficient levels of calcium and vitamin D are essential for preventing osteoporosis and osteopenia.
Calcium is an essential element for blood coagulation. Blood clotting is a function necessary to prevent exsanguination (blood loss) in the event you cut yourself or are otherwise wounded. According to the Franklin Institute, when you wound yourself, your blood's platelets gather at the surface of the wound, using vitamin K, calcium, and fibrinogen to create a clot. If calcium is not present, clotting will occur much more slowly, which can have deadly consequences.
Guide Nerve Cell Development
A 2001 study showed that calcium was essential in developing healthy nerve cells. Healthy nerve cells are essential in prevention of birth defects such as spinal bifida.
Transmitting Nerve Signals
Calcium helps create an essential signaling pathway in the human nervous system. According to Dr. Sears, nerve impulses don't function properly unless the body has the right amount of calcium present to facilitate the signaling.
If you want to move, you need calcium. That's because calcium triggers muscle contraction and relaxation throughout the body. According to Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute, calcium binds to proteins, which breakdown glycogen and provide energy for muscular contraction.
Constriction and Relaxation of Blood Vessels
The Linus Pauling Institute also notes that calcium signals cells to constrict and dilate blood vessels. Known as vasoconstriction and vasodilation, these two processes help control the flow of blood throughout the body so it supplies adequate oxygen when and where it is needed.
Maintaining a Steady Heartbeat
Charged ions (electrolytes) including sodium, calcium, and potassium control your heartbeat. Calcium's role in this important process is to regulate a protein called calmodulin, which binds to the sodium channel in order to keep it flowing properly to regulate your heartbeat.
According to the Creighton University Medical Center, low levels of calcium are indicated in a number of diseases, so adequate calcium intake may help prevent:
- Osteoporotic fractures
- Kidney stones
Other studies suggest adequate levels of calcium may decrease the risk of developing certain diseases, as well.
- One study showed calcium from food lowered the risk of developing prostate cancer.
- Another study showed a lowered risk of colorectal cancer with adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D.
- Populations with low levels of calcium intake have higher rates of high blood pressure than those with adequate calcium intake.
- One study showed low intake of calcium correlated with higher rates of ischemic stroke in middle aged women.
Get Your Calcium
With so many important health functions, it is essential you consume enough calcium either via calcium-rich foods or with supplementation. Talk to your health care provider about your ideal calcium intake.