Most people associate calcium with a healthy skeleton. Indeed, the mineral is essential for keeping your bones healthy, but it’s also a key player in the function of other critical body systems.
It’s important to get enough calcium to keep those systems in tip-top shape, yet there’s some evidence that too much can do more harm than good. In this slideshow, Johns Hopkins cardiologist Erin Michos, M.D., M.H.S., associate director of preventive cardiology at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, discusses how to get just the right dose.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body. Some 99 percent of it is stored in the bones and teeth, but that remaining 1 percent has important jobs to do elsewhere in the body. Calcium is essential for the proper functioning of nerves, blood vessels and muscles, including the heart, Michos explains. Calcium also plays a role in blood clotting.
Experts recommend that men ages 19–70 and women ages 19–50 consume 1,000 mg of calcium each day. Men older than 70 and women older than 50 should aim for 1,200 mg daily. For reference, there are 299 mg of calcium in an 8-ounce glass of skim milk. “Calcium is an essential mineral, and it’s important to meet the daily requirement,” says Michos.
The best place to find calcium isn’t in the supplements aisle at the drugstore but on your plate, says Michos. Research hints that there may be differences in how the body processes calcium from food versus from supplements. “I encourage people to try to get all of the recommended amount from their diet,” she says.
Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese pack a lot of calcium, but many other foods contain the mineral as well. Kale, Chinese cabbage and broccoli are good sources of calcium, Michos says, and many foods such as cereals, tofu, orange juice and soy milk are fortified with the nutrient.
While calcium is important, more isn’t necessarily better. “There’s no evidence that taking more than the recommended amount has any benefit,” Michos says. The body can only process 500 or 600 mg at once, yet people who swallow supplements often take much larger amounts in a single sitting. There’s some evidence that large doses from calcium supplements could raise the risk of clotting and calcification of the arteries, Michos explains.
Michos recommends tracking your meals for a week or two to get a sense of how much calcium you’re taking in. “If you're really coming up short, you might need a small supplement to make up the difference,” she says. Yet people often find it’s easier than they think to get what they need from their food and drink, she adds. “Most of the things that have a lot of calcium are things people should be eating anyway as part of a heart-healthy diet.”