The Chemistry of Calcium and its Relation to Biological Function

Calcium is a metallic element and the fifth most abundant in the earth’s crust. It’s an alkaline earth element that doesn’t occur freely in nature though it’s many compounds are common and we call these compounds “minerals” (such as limestone, marble and chalk) which is why many people do not think of Calcium as a metal.

We are taught from childhood how important Calcium is for healthy bones and teeth. Our parents encourage us to drink plenty of milk on the basis that it will make us grow tall and make our teeth strong. After that most of pretty much forget about Calcium until much later in life when women in particular may have problems with bone density caused by calcium deficiency. In between, though, Calcium is still working away playing an important part in our health, performing vital functions in the body.

First and foremost, Calcium builds and maintains healthy bones and teeth. As children we need Calcium to give us a good start in life and keeping up a good intake reinforces the early work. Later on, when we grow older and eat less Calcium intake can easily fall and a deficiency for any prolonged period can cause osteoporosis, a condition that is typified by a degeneration of bone density. Osteoporosis is the reason many older people lose height and why the elderly are more prone to suffering fractures during a fall. Women who have had eating disorders when they were young may also be more susceptible to osteoporosis because the damage was done while their bones were still young.

Aside from this function Calcium has several other important functions. One is its role in making sure nutrients can get to cells; calcium ions help to regulate the transfer of these nutrients through the cell walls. Calcium also plays an important role in the nervous system, sending messages to different parts of the body. Calcium is essential in replicating DNA and this means that if its function is impaired, we are at risk of premature aging.

A little known fact is that Calcium assists in blood clotting. If you have a deficiency of Calcium or Vitamin K, your blood will take longer to clot and in extreme cases, if you have a seriously low level of calcium, you are at risk of bleeding to death with even fairly minor wounds.

Calcium helps to maintain muscle function; twitching can be a warning sign that your muscles aren’t getting the calcium they need.

We all know that a milky drink can help us drop off when we are experiencing sleeping difficulties, but many people don’t realize that it’s the Calcium in the milk that is so effective; calcium is an excellent means of inducing sleep and a milky drink at bedtime is the best way of benefiting from its effect.

Recently scientists have proposed two theories concerning the effect of Calcium on our health. One is that Calcium helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels but further research has suggested that, in fact, the opposite is more likely because a high level of Calcium intake is often found in people who consume large amounts of dairy produce which in turn leads to a greater risk of heart disease.

The other is that Calcium can reduce risk of certain kinds of cancers, most noticeably cancer of the colon. So far research looks promising with findings that show a slight reduction in colorectal tumors among people with a good level of Calcium intake. However, it should be noted that in the cases that showed a reduction the patients were taking Calcium supplements rather than taking it in through their diet.

There is no shortage of ways to boost your Calcium intake; dairy foods are an obvious way though we should be wary of foods that can significantly increase our blood cholesterol levels. Nuts, leafy green vegetables, dried beans and tofu will also provide decent levels of calcium