Minerals of life- calcium and osteoporosis
The human body is a collection of elements and minerals held together by certain chemical bonds. Some of these minerals have a reservoir in the body from where they are replenished whenever there is a deficiency. Others may not have a reservoir and must be replenished regularly from external sources. In the midst of all these minerals, numerous chemical reactions are going on. These are chemical reactions that are catalyzed by enzymes (organic catalysts), which also work with one mineral or the other as co-factors. The rate of completion of the chemical reactions is usually determined by the availability of the co-factors. Therefore, for our optimal health we must ensure that our bodies are getting adequate supply of these essential minerals.
Sources of these minerals that are essential to the body include drinking water from various sources, vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and nuts. Others are animal products such as beef, organ meat (liver, kidney), poultry, dairy products (milk, cheese), beans, soybeans etc.
Calcium is an essential mineral of life that should be a component of a balanced diet. It is an earth mineral, abundant in nature and an alkaline mineral. In the human body, 99 per cent of calcium is stored in the bones and teeth where they function in giving strength to these structures. From these structures, calcium is released into the system when there is a deficiency. It will be deposited in these structures when there is excess of calcium in the circulation. Together the bones and teeth act as a reservoir of calcium and regulators of calcium levels in circulation. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation in the US, “ Calcium plays an important role in building stronger, denser bones early in life and keeping bones strong and healthy later in life.”
Other places where calcium may be found in the body are the muscles, blood and heart muscle.
Uses of calcium
Calcium is used frequently in the treatment of conditions that arise as a result of low calcium levels in the body.
Osteoporosis is a state of low bone density due to deficient amount of calcium for various reasons. Calcium levels in the body decrease with age and this is made worse in elderly, postmenopausal women in whom reduction of oestrogen production adversely affects calcium absorption. To make up for the low calcium in circulation, the body begins to leach calcium from the bones, teeth and other sources. Osteomalacia is a condition of low bone density that is associated with pain. Rickets is a condition in children that is associated with low calcium and soft bones. Blood-clotting may fail as a result of low calcium levels, thereby leading to bleeding tendencies. These are all as a result of deficiency of calcium and can be prevented and treated with calcium
Other diseases that are not necessarily caused by calcium deficiency but can be treated and managed by calcium include hypertension in pregnancy, commonly known as pre-ecclampsia, cramps in the legs in pregnancy and pre menstrual syndrome. Calcium may also help to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Calcium has other uses in the secretory functions of specialized cells such as neurotransmitter release, muscle contraction and in the transmission of electrical impulses in the myocardium (heart muscle).
Also, calcium has been found to maintain the health of blood vessels and prevent conditions such as arteriosclerosis. It can regulate the blood pressure and prevent insulin resistance, a precursor of type 2 diabetes.
Hypercalcaemia – excessive calcium in circulation
This may give rise to impaired kidney function and decreased absorption of other minerals. It may also increase the risk of prostate cancer.
Common sources of calcium
Low fat milk, cheese and yoghurt are well known common sources of calcium. Other sources are dark green leafy vegetables such as watercress, dandelion green, Turnip greens etc., broccoli and kale. Such legumes as white beans, black-eyed peas also contain high levels of calcium. The list includes the bones of canned salmon, canned sardines, fruits and seeds like dried figs, almonds and oatmeal (fortified). Other fortified sources of calcium are orange juice and other citrus juices.