Health Information

Calcium

  • Home
  • Health Information

The more you know about your health, the better prepared you are to make informed healthcare decisions. Our health library gives you the information you need to take charge of your health.

calcium Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in the human body. About 99% of the body's calcium resides in the bones and teeth, and the remaining 1% is found in other body fluids and cells.

Functions

Calcium's functions include:

  • Builds bones, both in length and strength
  • Helps bones remain strong by slowing the rate of bone loss with age
  • Helps muscles contract
  • Helps the heart beat
  • Plays a role in normal nerve function, transfers nerve impulses
  • Helps blood clot during bleeding
  • Builds healthy teeth (in kids)

Recommended Intake

The Institute of Medicine offers these recommendations:

Age Group (in years) Recommended Dietary Allowance or •Adequate Intake (mg/day)
Females Males
Birth to 6 months 200 milligrams (mg) 200 mg
7-12 months 260 mg 260 mg
1-3 years 700 mg 700 mg
4-8 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
9-18 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
19-50 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
51-70 years 1,200 mg 1, 000 mg
71 years and older 1,200 mg 1,200 mg
Pregnant or lactating teens 1,300 mg n/a
Pregnant or lactating adults 1,000 mg n/a

Calcium Deficiency

In childhood, not getting enough calcium may interfere with growth. A severe deficiency may keep children from reaching their potential adult height. Even a mild deficiency over a lifetime can affect bone density and bone loss, which increases the risk for osteoporosis as an adult.

If you do not consume enough calcium, your body will draw from the storage in your bones in order to supply enough calcium for its other functions: nerve transmission, muscle contraction, heartbeat, and blood clotting.

Symptoms of a calcium deficiency include:

  • Intermittent muscle contractions or cramps
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Rickets in children
  • Osteoporosis in adults

Calcium Toxicity

Very large doses over a prolonged period of time may cause kidney stones and poor kidney function. Your body may not absorb other minerals, such as iron, magnesium, and zinc, properly. These problems could occur from consuming too much through a calcium supplement, not from milk or other calcium-rich foods. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) depends on age.

Age Group (in years) Upper Level Intake (mg/day)
Females Males
Birth to 6 months 1,000 milligrams (mg) 1,000 mg
7-12 months 1,500 mg 1,500 mg
1-8 years 2,500 mg 2,500 mg
9-18 years 3,000 mg 3,000 mg
19-50 years 2,500 mg 2,500 mg
51 years and older 2,000 mg 2,000 mg
Pregnant or lactating teens 3,000 mg n/a
Pregnant or lactating adults 2,500 mg n/a

Major Food Sources

Dairy foods—milk, yogurt, and some cheeses—are the best dietary sources of calcium. These foods are also rich in vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.

Food Serving size Calcium content (mg)
Yogurt, plain, low fat 1 cup 415
Milk, nonfat 1 cup 299
Cheddar cheese 1.5 ounces 307
Mozzarella cheese, part skim 1.5 ounces 333
Cottage cheese, 1% milkfat 1 cup 138
Frozen yogurt, soft serve ½ cup 103
Ice cream ½ cup 84
Sardines, canned in oil with bones 3 ounces 313-384
Salmon, pink, canned solids with bone 3 ounces 181
Bread, white 1 slice 73
Pudding, chocolate, ready to eat 4 ounces 55
Orange juice, calcium-fortified 6 ounces 261
Soymilk, calcium-fortified 8 ounces 299

Absorption of calcium from some other dietary sources is not as great as that from dairy foods. Specifically, dark green vegetables contain oxalates, and grains contain phytates, which can bind with calcium and decrease their absorption.

Read food labels to determine the specific calcium levels of these foods.

Health Implications

Bone Health and Osteoporosis Prevention

Calcium is essential to build and maintain strong bones at all stages of life. Bone growth begins at conception, and bones grow longer and wider until well into the 20s. After this type of growth is complete, bones gain in strength and density as they continue to build up to peak bone mass by about age 30. From this point on, as a natural part of the aging process, bones slowly lose mass. Calcium is essential to slow this natural loss and stave off the onset of osteoporosis—a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break.

Tips for Increasing Your Calcium Intake

  • When making oatmeal or other hot cereal, use milk instead of water.
  • Add powdered milk to hot cereal, casseroles, baked goods, and other hot dishes.
  • Make your own salad dressing by combining low-fat plain yogurt with herbs.
  • Add tofu (processed with calcium) to soups and pasta sauce.
  • If you like fish, eat canned fish with bones on crackers or bread.
  • For dessert, try low-fat frozen yogurt, ice cream, or pudding.
  • In baked goods, replace half of the fat with plain yogurt.

Taking Supplements

If you are unable to meet your calcium needs through dietary sources, consider a calcium supplement. Some points to remember when choosing and using a calcium supplement include:

  • Check the label because the amount of calcium differs among products.
  • Avoid supplements with dolomite or bone meal. They may contain lead.
  • Check your vitamin D intake, too. This vitamin is essential for absorption of calcium. Milk is a great source of vitamin D, as is sunlight.
  • If you take both calcium and iron supplements or a multivitamin with iron, take them at different times of the day. They can impair each other's absorption. This is also true of chromium, manganese, magnesium, and zinc.
  • Do not take more than 500 mg of calcium at a time. Taking the calcium with food can help absorption.
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

    http://www.eatright.org

  • The Nutrition Source

    Harvard School of Public Health

    http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource

  • Dietitians of Canada

    http://www.dietitians.ca

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Calcium. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated August 2013. Accessed July 15, 2014.

  • Calcium. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/#h8. Updated November 21, 2013. Accessed July 15, 2014.

  • Calcium intake and supplementation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 7, 2014. Accessed July 15, 2014.

  • Dietary reference intakes for calcium and vitamin D. Institute of Medicine website. Available at: http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2010/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Calcium-and-Vitamin-D/Report-Brief.aspx?page=1. Published November 30, 2010. Accessed July 15, 2014.