Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, with 99% residing in bones and teeth. As a component of hard tissues, Calcium fulfills a structural role to maintain body size and act as attachments for musculoskeletal tissues. The remaining 1% of calcium is present in blood and soft tissues. Functions of non-skeletal Calcium include: enzyme activation, second messenger roles (transmitting hormonal information), blood clotting, cell and cell organelle membrane function (stabilization and transport), nerve impulse transmission, and muscular contraction, tone, and irritability. Calcium levels in the blood are maintained within very strict limits by dietary intake, hormonal regulation, and a rapidly exchangeable pool in bone tissue.
Calcium deficiencies are both acute and chronic. Acute Calcium deficiency relates to lack of ionized Calcium, causing increased muscular and nervous irritability, muscle spasms, muscle cramps, and tetany. Chronic calcium deficiency manifests as bone loss disorders (osteoporosis, osteomalacia in adults, rickets in children), tooth decay, periodontal disease, depression, and possibly hypertension.
Those at risk for Calcium deficiency include: malnourished, malabsorption, and bone loss disorders. Conditions which are known to decrease Calcium uptake or distribution are: decreased gastric acidity, Vitamin D deficiency, high fat diets, high oxalate intake from rhubarb, spinach, chard, and beet greens, high phytic acid intake from whole grains, high fiber intake, immobilization, faster gastrointestinal motility, psychological stress, thiazide diuretic therapy, aluminum compounds (aluminum-containing antacids, drugs, some parenteral feeding solutions).
Dietary Sources richest in Calcium (per serving) are:
Tofu Bone Meal
Multiple Vitamin/Mineral Supplements with Calcium Milk and Dairy Products (milk, yogurt, cheeses)
Canned Salmon & Sardines (with bones)
The 1989 RDA for calcium is 1000-1200 mg for adults (1300 mg for ages 9-18, 800 mg other ages). In general, daily calcium intakes of 2.0 grams or less are safe. Certain individuals with tendency to form kidney stones should consult a physician before increasing calcium intake. Milk-alkali syndrome is possible after consumption of 2 or more quarts of milk daily along with large amounts of carbonate antacids (calcium deposition in soft tissues and kidney stones). Calcium intakes greater than 2-4 grams daily may depress uptake of magnesium, zinc, iron, manganese, and other minerals, and are associated with depressed reflexes, muscle weakness, ataxia, and anorexia.