Your body uses calcium not only to keep teeth and bones strong, but also to enable muscles to contract, to assist in the transmission of neural impulses and to maintain cell membrane stability and permeability. It is also an important part of the blood clotting process and because your body is unable to generate calcium, it is important that you have adequate daily intake.
The Clotting Process
Whenever your skin becomes broken, the sticky platelets contained in the blood form clots to stop blood flow. Calcium works together with vitamin K and a protein called fibrinogen in the clotting cascade. Without adequate levels of calcium and vitamin K, blood will take longer to clot, and if both nutrients are missing you might bleed to death. Most people gain enough calcium and vitamin K from their diets, but in some cases supplements may be prescribed.
The Clotting Cascade
As soon as blood from a wound is exposed to the air, the platelets disintegrate and react with fibrinogen to create fibrin: a mass of tiny threads. This triggers a whole series of reactions that rely on adequate levels of calcium and vitamin K to work. The fibrin hardens very quickly to form a scab over the wound.
Foods that Contain Calcium
Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese contain a lot of calcium, and you will also find calcium in dried beans, tofu, spinach, broccoli and dark green vegetables. Certain cereals, vegan dairy substitutes and juices may be fortified with it. You must get an adequate daily intake of vitamin D to assist your body's absorption of calcium, so make sure that if you take calcium supplements, they contain vitamin D as well.
Adults under the age of 50 need around 1,000 mg calcium each day while older adults need around 1,200 mg each day. Children and adolescents need a higher intake of calcium because they grow rapidly. Those under 10 should get around 400 to 800 mg each day and those aged 11 to 24 need around 1,200 to 1,500 mg every day.
Do I Need Extra Calcium?
Most people gain enough calcium by eating a healthy and varied diet, but those at risk include menopausal women who may be at risk of rapid bone loss, vegetarians and those who are lactose intolerant because they may not be getting enough calcium from their diets. If you feel that you may be at risk contact your family physician.
Meeting Your Calcium Needs
If you have been told that you need to increase your calcium intake, try using low-fat or fat-free milk to make mashed potatoes, puddings and smoothies. Add low-fat or fat-free cheese to meals or try calcium-fortified tofu with fried vegetables or meat. Include other calcium-fortified foods such as cereals and drinks in your diet.