Bones and teeth contains a large amount of calcium. Calcium crystals form solid building blocks which are held together by a fibrous network: the result is a strong, resilient material for supporting your body and the bones. However, calcium is not permanently sited in the bones but it is mobilized to maintain the correct levels in the body tissues. So, it is important to maintain a normal calcium level.
Small amounts of calcium also regulate the impulses from the nerves in the brain. Similarly, they influence muscle contraction. Blood clotting also relies on a set amount of calcium in the blood.
Normal Calcium Level.
We absorb calcium from our food and it passes via the intestine, into the bloodstream. Some is lost in the urine. But some is stored in the bones or reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
To maintain a normal level of calcium in our blood, our bodies have an elaborate control system. This is sited in the parathyroid glands in the neck. Their product—parathyroid hormone (PTH)— acts on the bones and kidneys to release more calcium, and also to decrease loss in the urine.
When our calcium levels are low, more PTH is passed into the bloodstream. When our levels are high, less PTH is put out, and so a constant balance is maintained.
In order to maintain the normal calcium level, consumption of vitamin D is necessary. Without it, body cannot absorb calcium from our food. It also acts with PTH to release calcium from our bones.
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If we have too much calcium in our bodies, symptoms develop like vomiting and stomach pains. More seriously, excess calcium may be deposited in the kidneys and form renal stones. (Renal stones are usually excreted naturally without an operation).
The causes of too much calcium could be a parathyroid hormone secreting uncontrolled amounts of PTH or it could simply mean that the sufferer had taken too many vitamin D pills.
In emergency, calcium level can be reduced by phosphate injections or tablets. A parathyroid tumor needs surgery. If the cause is too many vitamin pills, the person must stop taking them.
Lack of Calcium.
If there is a lack of calcium a condition known as tetany occurs. The term describes spasms of the muscles, especially in the hands, feet and larynx. A common cause of tetany is hysterical anxiety triggered off by fear or emotion which results in a chemical change, which temporarily reduces the available blood calcium. As the hysteria passes away naturally, the body returns to normal.
If the parathyroid glands have to be removed, to treat a parathyroid tumor for example, PTH levels can suddenly drop and cause tetany. This can be successfully treated by giving calcium through a vein and oral vitamin D.
If calcium deficiency are left untreated for several months, other symptoms may occur. The loss of calcium from the bones causes rickets (which results in bone deformities) in children and osteoporosis (thinning bones) in elderly people. With these conditions bones become weakened.
Rickets still occur even today and can be helped by extra vitamin D. Many elderly people suffer from osteoporosis partly as a result of living on tea, bread and jam—food with few vitamins. Additional calcium will be benefited for these people, but their diet should really be generally improved.
The hormone calcitonin, given in tablet form, is helpful to patients with osteoporosis as it causes calcium to be laid down in the bone. Another disease of old age, Paget’s disease, whose symptoms are thickened but weak bones, will respond to calcitonin tablets.
Poor absorption of calcium is not a common problem. Vitamin D can helps to prevent from intestinal disease and also helps to absorb calcium from the food. It has been discovered that kidney disease patients are living longer due to improved treatment, but are tending to develop rickets. This is because vitamin D has to be stimulated by the kidney to do its job. Kidney patients can, however, be treated with extra vitamin D.
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Mother and Baby.
If you are pregnant or breast feeding your body loses calcium and vitamin D to your baby. But your intestine compensates for this by absorbing more calcium and vitamin D from the food you eat. It is advised to eat a balanced diet, thereby no need for calcium supplements.
If you are bottle feeding your baby, take great care to make up the feeds according to the instructions. Then there will be no calcium problem. Vitamin supplements are added to baby milks.
Breast-fed babies are protected from a low calcium level by mother’s milk and by vitamin D supplement drops.
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Frequently Asked Questions.
1. I have heard that too much calcium in the body is harmful. Could this happen to me if I ate too much in my food?
No. The body regulates how much calcium is required through the intestine. It absorbs the required amount of calcium from your blood, and advised to eat an adequate diet. Excess calcium is passed out in the urine. However, taking excessive amounts of vitamin D tablets can upset the system. If the absorption system goes wrong, it can lead to kidney stones. A low calcium diet helps to avoid this.
2. I am pregnant. Do I need calcium tablets to ensure that my baby develops healthy bones and will have strong teeth?
No, not unless your diet is lacking in protein rich food, fruit and vegetables. The intestine compensates for you and your baby’s requirements and will absorb more calcium from your food as necessary. However, drinking some extra milk will not harm you.
3. My mother, who is in her sixties, recently broke her arm in a very minor accident. She believes that her bones have weakened since the menopause. Is this possible?
Yes. The estrogen hormones present in women before the menopause help to build up calcium in the bones. After the menopause, osteoporosis (a thinning of the bones) may set in, particularly in those who are not eating properly, so make sure that your mother has an adequate diet, especially if she lives alone and perhaps can’t be bothered to cook just for herself. Treatment with hormone replacements, calcium, and vitamin D will also produce great improvements.
4. How much milk should my three-year-old drink each day?
Three glasses of milk contain half a gram of calcium—an adequate intake for a one to nine year old. But since calcium is present In many other foods as well, a good diet will easily make up the calcium.
A normal calcium level is essential to the human body which is proper and adequate. However, this level can be upset, but treatment will correct it.