Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. When we think of Calcium, we usually associate it with needing adequate amounts for healthy bones and teeth. This is true, but calcium is vital for other body functions as well. Calcium is used for regulating the heart’s rhythm, nerve functions, muscle contraction, enzyme functioning and blood clotting.
We get calcium from the foods we eat and from supplements we take. Only 1% of the body’s calcium is found in the blood, muscle and other tissues and the remaining 99% is stored in the bones.(1) The amount of calcium in the blood needs to remain stable to avoid complications. 2 main hormones responsible for calcium regulation in the body.
More parathyroid hormone is produced by the parathyroid gland when blood levels of calcium are low. This hormone sends the message for calcium to be released from bones into the bloodstream. It tells the kidneys to eliminate less calcium into the urine and to activate Vitamin D helping the gut to absorb more calcium.(2)
This hormone slightly slows the breakdown of bone, reducing the amount of calcium in the blood.(2)
Daily calcium requirements(3)
- Non pregnant over 19 years old 1000 mg/day
- During pregnancy over age 19 years old 1000 mg/day
- During lactation over age 19 years old 1000 - 1200 mg/day
- Teens 14-18 years old during pregnancy and lactation 1300 mg/day
- Menopause 1200 mg/day
Most of the demand for calcium during pregnancy is during the 3rd trimester when the baby’s skeletal system is developing at a rapid rate. Adequate calcium intake can protect against preeclampsia which causes high blood pressure in late pregnancy.
Cavities during pregnancy are often blamed on the greater need of the developing baby using up mom’s calcium, but calcium that is not being obtained from diet or supplements is removed from bone not teeth.
A focus on oral hygiene is important during pregnancy because hormones are changing and this can have impacts on your oral health. Progesterone increases during pregnancy causing an increase of acid in the mouth.(5) If you experience a lot of morning sickness, this can further increase the acid exposure to your teeth and make you more susceptible to sore, red and swollen gums and demineralization of your teeth.
Getting used to life after the baby arrives takes time. You are up more often, getting less sleep, taking care of the baby, feeding the baby and all of that can mean taking care of yourself takes more effort than before.
Your baby does not steal calcium from your teeth. During lactation, women lose 3%-5% of their bone mass, but this is short lived. It is a normal part of lactation and increased calcium intake does not change how much calcium is taken from the mom’s bones to be in the bloodstream during lactation. Studies show that between 3-6 months after weaning, bone loss is restored no matter how much was lost.(8) The recovery of bone loss begins before complete weaning takes place. As soon as the baby begins to take solid foods, calcium begins to be restored in mom’s bones.
For the baby - Calcium in different milks
- Calcium in human milk is highly bioavailable compared to other milks and formula. Human milk contains 5.9-10.1 mg/oz of calcium and 67% is absorbed by the body.(9)
- Infant formulas are fortified with extra calcium because the calcium in formula is not as bioavailable even though it contains a higher amount of calcium, 15.6 mg/oz.(10)
- Whole cow's milk contains 36.4 mg/oz of calcium but only 25%-30% is able to be used by the body.
- Plant-based milks are usually fortified and contain as much calcium as cow’s milk depending on the plant source.(11) It is important to read the list of other ingredients as many brands have high amounts of sugar or other additives that are potentially unhealthy.
Foods high in calcium(4)
- Cow’s milk
- Bok choy
- Chinese mustard greens
- Chinese cabbage
- Red, white and pinto beans
- Turnip greens
- Brussel sprouts
- Vitamin D from foods including salmon, cod liver oil, sardines or beef liver. Exposing your skin to sunlight causes the body to use cholesterol in the skin’s cells and synthesis of vitamin D.(6)
- Vitamin K2 helps optimize how calcium is used in the body. It activates the protein osteocalcin which promotes calcium to build in teeth and bones.
- Magnesium converts vitamin D into its active form needed for calcium absorption.
What can interfere with calcium absorption
- Cigarette smoke
- Medications used to treat heartburn and reflux reduce the production of stomach acid, decreasing calcium absorption.
- Medications for treating osteoporosis keep more calcium in the bones inhibiting it from releasing calcium into the bloodstream.
- Some medications including Lithium, diuretics, excess calcium carbonate supplements or excess vitamin D supplements can cause too much calcium to be in the bloodstream.(7)
Taking care of your teeth
- Eat mineral rich, calcium rich foods
- Take a mineral supplement if you do not get enough from your foods
- Cell salts can help your body utilize and absorb minerals including calcium
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water
- Avoid sugar and starchy foods
- Avoid carbonated beverages
- Avoid electrolyte drinks high in sugar
- Keep up with brushing and flossing your teeth
- See your dentist regularly for cleanings