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Calcium is the fifth most abundant element in the earth’s crust and makes up more than 3% of the crust. Classified chemically in Group 2 of the periodic table as one of the alkaline, metallic earth elements, it does not occur as the metal itself in nature and instead is found in various minerals including as limestone, gypsum and fluorite. The most abundant mineral in the human body, calcium is one of the most important elements in the diet because it is a structural component of bones, teeth, and soft tissues and is essential in many of the body’s metabolic processes.

Absorption of calcium is affected by many factors, including age, the amount needed, and what foods are eaten at the same time. The calcium 2+ ion is involved in many physiologic processes and is one of the most important macronutrients for the body’s growth and general cellular function. It is needed for every organ and cell to function, for example, it is necessary for the electrical charge of the heart beating. Among its many physiological functions is nerve impulse conduction. Calcium metabolism or calcium homeostasis is the mechanism by which the body maintains adequate calcium levels.

As the most abundant metallic element in the human body, it is an essential constituent of bones and teeth. About 99% of the calcium in our bodies is found in our bones and teeth. It is essential not only for the formation, mineralization and maintenance of bones and teeth but also for the development of healthy gums. Most people are aware that calcium plays a role in bone density, in keeping bones and teeth strong. Both baby teeth and adult teeth need calcium to grow and develop. It combines with phosphorus in a crystalline form of calcium phosphate, the dense, hard material of the bones and teeth. Your bones and teeth serve as reservoirs that your blood taps into for its ongoing need for calcium. Calcium release from bone is regulated by the parathyroid hormone.

Calcium is better absorbed from food sources than taken as supplements. Widely used in the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis, calcium levels are tightly controlled by a complex interaction of hormones and vitamins. Alone it can’t prevent or treat osteoporosis, but an adequate calcium intake is needed for any other treatment to work. Ultimately, the amount of calcium that your blood saps from your bones and teeth is determined by the amount of calcium that your blood receives from your diet.

When you realize that there is as much or more calcium in 4 ounces of firm tofu or 3/4 cup of collard greens as there is in one cup of cow’s milk, it is easy to see why people who do not drink cow’s milk may still have strong bones and teeth. However, eating plenty of healthy, calcium-rich foods does not guarantee that you will have healthy bones and teeth. Your body still needs the ability to absorb and metabolize the calcium it receives, which can also be a function of how well your food is digested. Good digestion begins with healthy teeth and properly chewing your food, so don’t forget that regular dental maintenance is a health issue as well.