Calcium is responsible for the construction, formation, and maintenance of bone and teeth. This function helps reduce the occurrence of osteoporosis. It is also a vital component in blood clotting systems and wound healing, and helps to control blood pressure, nerve transmission, and release of neurotransmitters. It is an essential component in the production of enzymes and hormones regulating digesting, energy, and fat metabolism. It helps transport ions (electrically charged particles) across the cell membranes and is essential for muscle contraction. Calcium assists in maintaining all cells and connective tissues in the body.
When the body needs more calcium than is supplied through diet, it withdraws it from the bones. This unfortunate but necessary biochemical activity frequently results in conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, fractures, and so on. Foods that contain oxalic acid, in particular spinach and rhubarb, can prevent the absorption of calcium. The consumption of meat and dairy products has been shown to rob the minerals from bones, thereby weakening them and subjecting them to many diseases and conditions from fractures, arthritis, and osteoporosis. The United States has some of the world’s highest rates of osteoporosis, and, not coincidentally, we consume equally high rates of dairy products. This is also true in the Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden, and Norway. If dairy products (cheese, milk, butter, and so on) were good sources of calcium, we would not have such high rates of these disorders.
Supplements are used to treat muscle cramps as well as problems of the back and bones related to improper aging, such as arthritis, rheumatism, and osteoporosis (the loss of bony tissue that results in brittle bones, particularly prevalent among post-menopausal women). These problems are in fact more an indication of improper living throughout a long period of time. Calcium deficiency often follows vitamin D deficiencies and can lead to rickets in children. Typical symptoms of rickets are bowlegs, knock-knees, and pigeon chests, all caused by softening of the bones. In adults, calcium deficiency can cause osteomalacia, characterized by aching bones, muscle spasms, and curvature of the spine.
Most calcium supplementation today is derived from calcium carbonate, which is found in chalk, oyster shells, coral rock sediments, eggshells, and other non-organic sediments and non-living mineral sources. Calcium from these sources is not an organic, naturally occurring food ingredient, and despite how it is marketed to consumers, it does not fulfill our nutritional needs.
It is a challenge to find a real and substantial vegetable source of calcium supplementation derived from food.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. The average male has about 3 pounds of calcium, the average female about 2 pounds. Most calcium is found in bones and teeth (according to the National Research Council, 1989) with the remaining 1 percent in the soft tissues and watery parts of the body where calcium helps to regulate normal organ processes.
When blood calcium levels drop, the body can borrow from its skeletal stores and return calcium to bones as needed. A constant supply of calcium is necessary throughout our lifetime, but is especially important during phases of growth, pregnancy, and lactation. About 10 to 40 percent of dietary calcium is absorbed in the small intestine.
The level of calcium absorption from dietary sources drops in post-menopausal women. The body will absorb more calcium if there is a deficiency.
Factors that improve calcium absorption include adequate amounts of protein, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. Conditions that reduce calcium absorption include high or excessive intakes of oxalates and phytates, found in foods such as cooked spinach. Consumption of alcohol, coffee, sugar, or medications such as diuretics, tetracycline, and aluminum-containing antacids, as well as stress, reduces the absorption of calcium and other minerals.
Lack of exercise reduces calcium absorption as well as causing an increase in calcium losses. A lifestyle of immobility also leads to calcium deficiency. Calcium deficiency increases the risk of bone disorders such as osteoporosis.
Naturally occurring sources of calcium include dark green leafy vegetables, sprouted beans, pea greens, corn sprouts, green juice, and some botanicals. There is a high level of naturally occurring vegetable calcium available in Terminalia arjuna (known as “Arjuna” herb), a traditional medicinal botanical grown in Asia. Some extracts of this herb are specifically offered as calcium supplements.