Calcium is known as an essential mineral for keeping bones strong and healthy, but did you know that it also plays an essential role in your heart health?
“Calcium, which has an electrical charge, plays a crucial role in how our heart cells interact with each other,” explained Dr. Abhishek Singhtheymedical director of the Heart Success Program at Atlantic Health System. “The electrical cells communicate with each other and coordinate the timing of each muscle cell’s contraction, which ultimately makes our heart beat and pump blood.”
It also helps your overall health. “Adequate calcium is necessary for good health, for our bones (99% of the body’s calcium is found in bones), organs (the heart is an organ), muscle contractions (the heart is a muscle), blood clotting and transmission of nerve impulses,” explained registered dietitian nutritionist Geeta Sikand, director of nutrition for the Preventive Cardiology Program at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine.
But this mineral is not created naturally, so it is important for people to get calcium through their diet. “Our bodies don’t produce calcium, so we need to get it from our food sources,” explained registered dietitian Michelle Routhenstein, a preventive cardiology nutritionist at Fully Nourished. “We need to get enough calcium through food to maintain the proper amount of calcium in our bodies.”
You might be wondering what really happens when your body doesn’t get enough of this mineral. “If calcium is not provided by the diet, it can lead to the release of calcium from the bones into the blood vessels, which can cause calcification in the arteries,” explained Routhenstein.
Too little calcium can lead to low blood pressure (hypotension), heart rhythm disturbances and heart failure.doctor Abhishek Singh
Sikand added: “Calcium deficiency can reduce bone strength and lead to osteoporosis, which is characterized by brittle bones and an increased risk of falling.”
There is also a connection between osteoporosis and heart disease. “Osteoporosis is linked to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, and we want to make sure we are consuming enough calcium (along with many other bone-supporting minerals) to effectively prevent and manage osteoporosis and heart disease,” said Routhenstein.
And if you need another reason to make sure you’re getting enough calcium, Singh added, “Too little calcium can lead to low blood pressure (hypotension), heart rhythm disturbances, and heart failure.”
How to ensure you get enough calcium.
You’ll need to pay attention to your diet and familiarize yourself with calcium-rich foods because your body won’t give you any obvious signs that it’s lacking this mineral. “The only way to know if you’re consuming enough is to calculate how much you’re consuming,” Routhenstein said. “An easy way to identify is to assess how many servings of calcium-rich foods you consume on a regular basis.”
Sikand recommends consulting the US Department of Agriculture FoodData Central to find out the nutrient content and amount of calcium in different foods.
if you are wondering whatrecommended daily calciumingestion isit depends on your age and sex. National Institutes of Healthhe has guidelines on how much calcium you should consume per day. The daily target for adults ages 19 to 50 is 1,000 mg. If you are 51-70 years old, women are recommended consume 1,200 mg, while men should consume 1,000 mg. If you are over 70, increase your calcium intake to a target of 1,200 mg per day. Children’s calcium needs vary by age, but children between the ages of 9 and 18 should generally aim for 1,300 mg per day.
Dairy products like cheese, milk and yogurt are calcium-rich foods. “Some good sources of calcium include kefir and low-fat dairy, because not only do they include calcium, but they’re also rich in vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K2, which help facilitate the entry of calcium into the bones,” Routhenstein said.
Singh added that dairy products, as well as fortified plant-based milks like almond milk, are not only rich in calcium but also have important nutrients, including vitamins A, E and D.
But milk-based foods aren’t the only way to get calcium. “Leafy greens are also a good source of calcium and have a great source of other nutrients like fiber, iron, magnesium and potassium,” Singh said.
One cup of cooked spinach contains 19% of your daily value for calcium.
Which is better: calcium-rich foods or calcium supplements?
If you’re not a fan of calcium-rich foods but know you need more calcium in your diet, calcium supplements might seem like an easy fix. But scientific research on calcium supplements shows that they are probably not the best answer, nor is their use simple or straightforward. Some experts shared that a frequently asked question from patients is, are calcium supplements harmful to my heart?
“There have been studies linking calcium supplements with increased risk of heart disease,” Sikand said. “Recent evidence shows that there is potential for harm with calcium supplements, particularly at higher doses (>1200 mg/day), [so the] benefit-risk balance should be carefully considered by your physician.”
However, there may be circumstances where a person may need to take calcium supplements. “Some individuals may benefit from calcium supplementation for bone health but still be exposed to a potentially slightly elevated risk of heart attack and stroke,” Sikand explained.
Before making any decisions about supplements, Singh reiterates that you should follow common health advice: “The most important thing for patients to know is that before deciding to add any type of supplement to their diet, they should consult their doctor.”
He’s quick to point out that this can be a common and frequent recommendation, but it’s an important one to follow. “Each patient has a different story. What might be helpful for one patient based on their wellness journey might be harmful for another and vice versa,” he added.