Published October 1 2012
Note: Most people reading this article currently take nutritional supplements, and yet most people don’t have a good understanding about the vitamins and minerals they’re taking. Because of this, what I’ve decided to do is to write some articles that discuss the different roles of each of the vitamins and minerals in the body, and since this website focuses on thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, I figured it would be a good idea to briefly discuss how they relate to thyroid health. This article will focus on the importance of calcium.
99% of the calcium in the body is stored in the bones. This includes the teeth. The remaining calcium is in the bloodstream. While most people are aware of the benefits of calcium with regards to bone health, many are unfamiliar with the other roles calcium plays in the body. To be frank, there is so much to write about calcium that it would be impossible to discuss everything about this mineral in a single article. So I’m going to focus on some of the more important functions of this mineral, as well as discuss the biochemistry. And I will also briefly talk about how it relates to thyroid health.
With regards to bone health, calcium is of course very important to maintain strong and healthy bones. So if someone has a calcium deficiency, then there is a good chance they will develop the condition known as osteoporosis over time. But one needs to mind that it’s not just a deficiency of calcium that leads to osteoporosis. Other vitamins and minerals are involved as well, and so even if someone is consuming a sufficient amount of calcium each day, it is still possible to develop osteoporosis if they are missing some of these other cofactors which helps calcium to do its job.
Other Factors Which Are Important For Calcium Absorption
While I’m not going discuss everything that is necessary for proper calcium absorption, I am going to discuss some of the more important ones. Let’s begin with vitamin D, as calcium absorption is dependent on this vitamin. And of course many people are deficient in this important vitamin. Keep in mind that the reference ranges of just about every lab is on the low side with regards to vitamin D. In other words, just because you fall within the reference range doesn’t mean you have sufficient levels of vitamin D. While most labs have a reference range between 30 ng/ml and 100 ng/ml, the Vitamin D Council and other reputable sources recommend for ones vitamin D levels to be at least 50 ng/ml.
Dietary protein will directly influence calcium absorption. You need to consume a significant amount of protein to help with calcium absorption. However, if you consume too much protein then this can result in an increase in urinary calcium. Caffeine also causes an increase in urinary calcium, which is yet another reason why you want to minimize your caffeine intake.
While all of the minerals interact with one another, three minerals which directly interact with calcium include phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. So while you of course want to make sure that all of the minerals are in a proper balance, with regards to the function of calcium it is important to have sufficient levels of these minerals.
Some Of The Other Roles Calcium Plays
In addition to playing an important role in bone health, calcium has numerous other functions. Calcium plays a very important role in muscle contraction. I’m not just talking about the muscles in your arms, legs, and other extremities, but ALL of the muscles in your body, including your heart muscles. This is where the 1% of calcium in the blood comes into play, as if someone has a calcium deficiency, the body will prioritize the contraction of the muscles over the health of the bones, and will therefore pull calcium from the bones in order to help with muscle contraction.
Calcium also is important when it comes to the clotting of blood. It does this by activating certain enzymes. With regards to blood clotting, calcium also needs the presence of vitamin K and a protein called fibrinogen to do its job. So if someone is deficient in calcium or vitamin K, then this can affect their blood clotting ability.
Proper nerve conduction also relies on adequate calcium levels. This mineral is also important for membrane permeability, and in addition helps to regulate enzymes. A deficiency in calcium can contribute to hypertension, and perhaps even colon cancer. So hopefully you realize that calcium does much more than just maintaining proper bone health.
How Does Calcium Relate To Thyroid Health?
The thyroid gland works with the parathyroid glands when it comes to calcium regulation. In addition to releasing thyroid hormone, the thyroid gland also releases a hormone called calcitonin, which helps to regulate calcium levels in the blood. Calcitonin helps to reduce the calcium levels in the blood, whereas parathyroid hormone helps to increase the blood calcium levels. So when there is an increase in the serum calcium levels, the thyroid gland will release calcitonin to help reduce these levels. When people think about malfunctioning of the thyroid gland, what usually comes to mind is the increase or decrease in thyroid hormone. But in some cases thyroid gland malfunction can cause problems with the secretion of Calcitonin. This admittedly is rare, and when it does happen usually this is due to a tumor, although sometimes it can occur with physical trauma to the thyroid gland.
Food Sources of Calcium
Dairy foods are excellent sources of calcium. Examples include milk, yogurt, and cheese. However, many people are allergic to dairy, especially cow’s milk, and so they will need to rely on other sources of calcium. Green leafy vegetables are a good source of calcium, including kale and spinach. Broccoli is also a good source of calcium. Almonds are also a good source of calcium. Eating salmon or sardines with the bones can also provide a good source of calcium.
Supplementing With Calcium
Just as is the case with any deficiency, if someone is deficient in calcium then they probably won’t be able to correct this deficiency through diet alone. As a result, supplementation is usually necessary. I frequently get asked which form of calcium is the best to take. I typically recommend calcium lactate to my patients, as it is absorbed well, and it is cost effective. Calcium acetate probably has the best absorption, but is more expensive than calcium lactate. While I don’t base my recommendations on cost alone, in this case I don’t think it’s worth the extra expense to get calcium acetate over calcium lactate. Calcium gluconate and calcium citrate also can be good forms of calcium. Just remember that the supplement brand you choose plays a key role in the quality, which is why you don’t want to just buy the cheapest supplements you can find. On the other hand, you should be able to find a good quality calcium supplement at a very affordable price at your local health food store or through your doctor.
Those people who take thyroid hormone probably have been warned by their medical doctor to not take calcium supplements too close to when they take their medication. The reason is because it calcium will interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormone. So if you take thyroid hormone when you first wake up in the morning, then you probably will want to wait at least 45 to 60 minutes before taking any calcium supplements.
So hopefully you have a better understanding as to how important calcium is, and realize some of the different functions of this mineral. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and a deficiency not only will affect bone health, but can lead to numerous other problems as well. And so you want to make sure to eat plenty of foods that are rich in calcium, and if necessary, take quality calcium supplements.