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Calcium takes care of bones, muscles, and the nervous system

Calcium is an essential element for life. Adequate levels of calcium in the blood are essential for good bone strength, functioning muscles, and the nervous system. Sufficient calcium intake should be ensured from an early age and throughout life, as it is an effective way to prevent osteoporosis (brittle bones).

Brief about calcium

  • Calcium is the most important building block in our bones.
  • Calcium deficiency can cause osteoporosis and growth inhibition.
  • A large portion of the calcium in the blood is bound to albumin.
  • Although everyone’s skeleton naturally weakens with age, osteoporosis is significantly more common in women than men.

The role of calcium in the body

Calcium is the most important building block in our skeleton. In order to form strong bone tissue capable of withstanding the pressures and strains the body is subjected to, calcium is necessary. Calcium is also essential in your body’s metabolism, and is involved in regulating muscle and nerve cell function, as well as the blood clotting process.

Calcium exists in the blood in three different forms: bound to albumin, in combination with bicarbonate, citrate, and phosphate, and as free ions. It is the calcium ion that is metabolically active in the body.

D vitamin

Calcium metabolism is mainly regulated by three factors. Primarily, it is regulated by parathyroid hormone, a hormone produced by the parathyroid gland. Additionally, calcium is regulated by D vitamin and another hormone from the thyroid gland, calcitonin.

Together with D vitamin, calcium is necessary for creating strong bones. This is because D vitamin is necessary for the body to be able to absorb calcium. The main sources of D vitamin are fish and UV radiation from the sun. When the skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays, the active form of D vitamin is created.

Normal levels of calcium are necessary for the body’s cells to communicate with each other, including via various hormones. Therefore, the body regulates calcium levels very carefully to avoid disturbances in the nervous system and muscles.

What happens with calcium deficiency?

If the body does not get enough calcium from the diet, calcium is instead taken from the skeleton, where it is always available for the bloodstream. Calcium deficiency thus causes weakening of the skeleton, leading to osteoporosis over time.

What are the daily recommended intakes of calcium?

Calcium is a mineral whose requirements vary with age. In children, where the growth rate is high, the need for calcium is therefore also high in relation to their size. In adults, where the growth of bone tissue is considerably less, only about one-tenth of the calcium in the diet is absorbed.

The table below shows the Swedish National Food Agency’s recommended intake per age group:

GroupRecommended intake/day
Adults800 mg
Pregnant and breastfeeding900 mg
Children, teenagers 10-17 years900 mg
Children 6-9 years700 mg
Children 1-5 years600 mg
Infants 6-11 months540 mg

As a person ages, the absorption of calcium decreases. Instead, the body extracts the lacking calcium from the bones by increasing the secretion of parathyroid hormone. When this process continues over a longer period, the condition of osteoporosis develops, which we will explain more in detail below.

Why are calcium levels examined?

Testing for calcium is clinically used to check the calcium levels in the blood. Since calcium exists in several different forms in the body, it is also necessary to examine the levels of albumin in the blood to determine the actual amount of calcium in the blood.

Because calcium levels in the blood are regulated by, among other factors, the thyroid and parathyroid glands, calcium tests can be used to investigate diseases related to these organs.

A calcium test can also help doctors diagnose various diseases that can affect the skeleton, teeth, heart, nervous system, or kidneys.

What is the reference range for calcium?

The reference values for P-Ca (calcium) for adults are 2.15-2.50 mmol / l.

The unit mmol / l denotes concentration measured in millimoles per liter.

Reference values can vary depending on where the analysis is performed and what analysis method is used.

What does a high calcium value mean?

High levels of calcium in the blood are called hypercalcemia. It is usually caused by overactive thyroid hormone, which transfers too much calcium from the bone to the blood.

In addition to thyroid disorders, high calcium levels can be caused by, among other things:

What does a low calcium value mean?

Low levels of calcium in the blood are called hypocalcemia. It may be due to a lack of parathyroid hormone, hypoparathyroidism. Hypocalcemia can also be caused by a greater decrease in D vitamin intake or impaired calcium absorption, which can occur, for example, in connection with celiac disease.

In addition, low calcium levels can be caused by, among other things:

Osteoporosis

Until the age of thirty, bone tissue is formed faster than it is broken down, which increases the hardness of the skeleton. After the age of thirty, the bones become porous because the process is reversed, bone tissue is broken down faster than it is formed. If this process continues over time, the strength of the bone tissue decreases to the point where the skeleton becomes brittle, a condition known as osteoporosis.

Although everyone’s bones become more porous with age, osteoporosis is clearly more common in women than men. The process accelerates especially after menopause because a lack of estrogen, a female hormone, speeds up the loss of calcium from the bones.

The speed of the process of building and breaking down bone tissue is greatly influenced by hereditary factors, but several lifestyle-related risk factors are known.

What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?

There are several risk factors for developing osteoporosis, some of the most common ones are:

After the diagnosis of osteoporosis is made, it is important to ensure intake of calcium and D vitamin. Similarly, physical activity is an important factor in preventing continued breakdown of bone tissue.

Medication is always initiated if a person is diagnosed with a fracture associated with osteoporosis. Typically, a bisphosphonate medication taken orally once a week or once a month is used. Bisphosphonate prevents bone breakdown and can even increase bone mineral content.

Treatment of osteoporosis is long-term and aims to reduce the risk of fractures.

What are good sources of calcium?

Good sources of calcium include oats, nuts, soy or rice-based drinks and yogurts with added calcium, tofu, tahini, fish, soy, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, oranges, black currants, cabbage, and dairy products.

Below are good sources of calcium (the amount is per 100 g of product).

Calcium is better absorbed from food than when taken as a tablet, so it is important to primarily try to increase calcium intake by improving one’s diet.

Magnesium
Information Article

Magnesium (Mg)

Those who are physically active should especially pay attention to the adequate intake of magnesium. Magnesium supports the well-being of muscles and bones.

A woman is shopping for fruits and vegetables.
Information Article

Potassium

Potassium can be obtained from vegetables, fruits and dairy products.

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