Calcium is the most abundant mineral present in the body and is also a common dietary constituent. It accounts for 1 to 2 percent of the total body weight and is abundantly found in the bones and the teeth, which account for about 90% of the total calcium.

The remaining 1% calcium is present within and helps in their optimal functioning of blood, body fluids, nerve cells, muscle cells and other cells and tissues. Though it is considered to be a micronutrient and is consumed in lesser amounts in the diet, you cannot do away without getting enough calcium.

It is important for strong bones and their healthy structure, which is its primary function in the body. It performs several other functions and is important for individuals in every age group. These functions will be discussed ahead along with dosage and deficiency of calcium.

  1. Calcium rich foods and sources
  2. Recommended daily allowance of calcium
  3. Calcium benefits
  4. Calcium deficiency
  5. Calcium side effects

Calcium is naturally present in various food products in rich amounts. It is recommended to include these sources in your diet to meet the daily calcium requirements of your body. Supplements of calcium are also commonly available as over the counter medications, which are different for different age groups. Consult your physician to choose the right supplements for you.

Here are the best dietary sources of calcium:

  • Milk: regular/full fat/skimmed
  • Cheese (all types)
  • Yogurt
  • Curd or dahi
  • Cottage cheese or paneer
  • Tofu
  • Other milk products like cream and ice creams.
  • Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, squash, cabbage or broccoli
  • Fresh oranges or orange juice.
  • Fortified cereals and some other packaged foods also contain calcium

If you are lactose intolerant (unable to digest dairy products) or a vegan, you can opt to consume calcium from non-dairy sources like fruits and vegetables. You can also opt for non-dairy milk substitutes like almond milk or soy milk, which offer the same nutritional values and a similar taste. This will help you in maintaining your daily calcium requirement without relying on supplements.

Read more: Soybean benefits

The following table entails the daily requirements of calcium by the body. You may, however, note that these values are an estimate and the actual amount to be consumed depends on your height, weight and nutritional status.

Higher amounts are also required during pregnancy and lactation to meet the higher body demands and to avoid deficiencies in the infant. You can use this table as a basic guide, but, avoid taking any additional supplements without your physician’s consult.

Age and Recommended Daily Intake of calcium

  • Birth to 6 months of age: 200 mg
  • 7 months to 1 year: 260 mg
  • 1 year to 3 years: 700 mg
  • 4 years to 8 years: 1000 mg
  • 9 years to 18 years: 1300 mg
  • Adult dosage (up to 50 years): 1000 mg
  • Dosage during pregnancy and lactation: 1000 mg
  • Mature adulthood (51 years to 70 years): 1000 mg for males; 1200 mg for females
  • Late adulthood (71 years and beyond): 1200 mg

As we all know, calcium is essential for strong bones and healthy teeth, but there are other surprising benefits of calcium for all age groups.

  • For strong bones: Calcium makes an important part of the basic structure of bones. Deficiency of calcium may cause bones to become weak and prone to fractures. However, the body is not able to make its own calcium so it has to be taken from an outside source.
  • For kids: Since most of the bone formation occurs in childhood, calcium is much more important to children. When taken along with a sufficient amount of vitamin D, it reduces the risk of rickets in children.
  • For women: Women are known to be at a higher risk of calcium deficiency and osteoporosis, especially after menopause. Supplementing calcium-rich foods also helps prevent stature problems and bone fractures in menopausal women.
  • For elderly: Elderly people have a much higher need for calcium owing to their decreased appetite and poor nutrient absorption. However, it is better to take the recommended daily calcium from food instead of supplements.
  • For teeth: Calcium is essential for maintaining the basic structure of your teeth. A deficiency of this mineral makes your teeth brittle and prone to decay. Calcium also helps in timely eruption of teeth in your oral cavity.

Calcium for strong bones

Your body needs enough calcium to form healthy and strong bones and maintain their good structure. Without enough calcium, your bones will become weak, soft and more prone to fracture. Since the body cannot synthesize calcium on its own, it is essential to take enough amounts through the diet. Hence experts recommend that you include the aforementioned foods in your diet in copious amounts. You can also take additional supplements if prescribed by your physician.

Calcium is quite an essential mineral during the growing stage of an individual, however, it is required throughout life, because constant bone remodelling and changes take place in your body, replacing the old bone structure with a newer tissue, which is stronger. This makes it essential to ensure enough dietary intake of calcium regardless of your age or other factors.

While you may take enough calcium in your diet, it is also essential to ensure that your body absorbs and utilizes the available calcium. For these reasons, it is recommended to take enough amounts of vitamin D in your diet, along with calcium.

Calcium for kids

Calcium is a vital nutrient for stronger bones. It is required all throughout your life, but it is more essential for children. This is because major bone formation occurs during childhood and teenage years, wherein the body lays out the strongest possible structure of bones, which is then maintained for a lifetime. If children do not get enough calcium, this process will be affected leading to the development of softer or even malformed bones.

Deficiency of vitamin D and calcium in the body is known to cause rickets in children, which is characterized by malformation of bones and bow-shaped appearance of the legs. To avoid this condition and to lay out a foundation of healthy bone structure functioning through adulthood, it is essential to ensure that the diet of children and teenagers is sufficient in calcium and vitamin D.

Calcium for women

While calcium is essential for optimal bone health in all, it is required in higher amounts in females, particularly after menopause. This is because women in this age group are more prone to develop osteoporosis due to decreased estrogen levels in the body. Osteoporosis is characterized by accelerated bone loss, which is responsible for making bones weaker and more fragile at this age. This bone loss is more marked at the lumbar spine, which often affects the posture and may give a hunched back appearance in these women.

Osteoporosis is also seen in women other than the post-menopausal group. Women with amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycle) are often at a higher risk due to low levels of estrogen in their body.

Statistics reveal that women are more likely to develop nutrition-related disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia, which are obsessive disorders characterized by a reduced desire to eat to attain maximal thinness. These women often present with nutritional deficiencies including that of calcium and vitamin D, which gives them a poor stooped frame and an increased risk of fractures. It is essential to ensure adequate levels of calcium in your diet to achieve a desirable frame and posture. 1000 mg of calcium for women under 50 years of age and 1200 mg for those over 50 has been recommended.

Find women health information

Calcium for the elderly

The elderly often have lower levels of calcium and vitamin D, owing to reduced dietary intake, limited exposure to sunlight and a generally reduced appetite. This along with a higher risk of falls predisposes them to a greater hazard of fracture. Also, the elderly often suffer from digestive disorders, which hinders sufficient absorption of calcium from the diet.

To counteract this, a higher dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D is recommended in the elderly as compared to the young. You can refer to the table to determine the RDA for your age and gender. However, it is suggested to increase the dietary intake of calcium as opposed to supplements, because supplements are less likely to contribute to a reduced risk of fractures and fragile bones in the elderly, as evidenced by various studies. They are also known to have several side effects, which will be discussed ahead.

Calcium for the teeth

As much as calcium is required for healthy and strong bones, it is also essential for your teeth. Calcium helps in the growth and formation of jaw bones, which contain the teeth. Did you know that the enamel of the teeth has the highest mineral content of the body (96%), even higher than that of bones? This makes it the hardest structure, being much harder than your bones.

Calcium is present in the form of calcium phosphate in the teeth, which is responsible for its hardness and is also aided by phosphorus. Low serum levels of calcium in the body are known to make the teeth brittle and more prone to decay. It is also known to delay the eruption of teeth in the oral cavity. Thus, it is essential to ensure adequate dietary intake of vitamin D and calcium for utmost dental health.

Read more: Tooth eruption cycle

Role of calcium

Above stated are the benefits of calcium and its role as an essential mineral for bones and teeth, but calcium performs several other functions in the body. It is essential for the clotting of blood, which is required to cease haemorrhage or bleeding. This, it does so, by taking part in the formation of fibrin or the clot.

Calcium also helps in the contraction and relaxation of muscles by binding with their proteins.

Read more: Muscle pain treatment

Other than this, calcium is also known to be essential in maintaining homeostasis (stable internal environment) within the body.

Studies have also demonstrated the role of calcium in maintaining cardiac health. This mineral is known to regulate the contraction of heart muscles, which helps in forming the heartbeat. It is also known to reduce the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) and atherosclerosis (narrowing down of arteries due to clot formation of lipid build-up). However, these benefits are associated with the dietary intake of calcium, and the role of supplements has been found to be counteractive in such cases. It is thus recommended to meet daily requirements of calcium from dietary sources, without relying on supplements, if not so prescribed.

Other than these roles, calcium supplementation has also been suggested to be beneficial in preventing the risk of colon cancer and certain other types of cancer. However, these findings are conflicting.

Several studies have also demonstrated the role of calcium as a weight loss supplement by taking part in the metabolisation of fat by the body. These studies have suggested that a diet rich in calcium is likely to enhance weight loss effects but has not been found to aid weight loss independently.

Read more: Balanced diet for weight loss

Insufficient dietary intake of calcium does not cause deficiencies in the short term. Hypocalcemia is likely to occur in combination with other factors like renal failure, surgical removal of the stomach or excessive intake of diuretics, which is likely to flush out excess calcium from the system. It is marked by symptoms such as muscle cramps, convulsions, numbing and tingling sensations in the fingers. Osteomalacia, which is characterised by softening of bones, leading to malformation or fractures, can also occur due to calcium deficiency.

Calcium deficiency is more likely to occur in certain groups and individuals like postmenopausal women, amenorrheic women, anorexic patients, malnourished children and the elderly. It can be avoided by sufficient dietary intake of calcium. The management and treatment depend on the symptoms experienced by the individual and the related disorder.

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While the consumption of calcium by the oral route does not pose any significant side effects when taken within the normal limits, calcium supplements are likely to cause harm. These can be mild or severe depending upon the dosage of supplements and the duration of treatment.

High calcium intake from supplements is likely to cause constipation and other gastrointestinal disorders. It may also reduce the absorption of iron or zinc. Such a high dosage is not usually possible when taking calcium from dietary sources.

In high doses, calcium supplements are likely to exacerbate or even cause kidney stones. High dosages are also linked with an increased risk of atherosclerosis, which is initially visible as an excessive deposition of calcium ions within the walls of arteries.

Excessive calcium intake also increases the risk of other cardiovascular disorders.

Due to these side effects of supplements, it is recommended to meet daily calcium requirements from dietary sources, so that you are less likely to overdose. Furthermore, try and eat within the limits of recommended daily allowance, that is, around 1000 mg for normal adults. In all situations, do not go beyond an upper limit of 3000 mg through supplements.


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  3. National Institutes of Health; Office of Dietary Supplements. [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Calcium.
  4. National Osteoporosis Foundation I 251 18th St. S, Suite #630 I Arlington, VA 22202 I (800) 231-4222. Calcium/Vitamin D.
  5. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Calcium and bones
  6. Center for Young Women’s Health. Calcium. Boston Children's Hospital [Internet]
  7. International Osteoporosis Foundation. Why seniors are more vulnerable to calcium and vitamin D deficiency. Switzerland
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  10. Health Harvard Publishing, Published: January, 2017. Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Calcium and heart disease: What is the connection?. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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