ôô

What You Need to Know About Calcium

Learn what you need to know about your calcium levels and whether you should be taking supplements.

By
Rob Lamberts, MD,
Episode #072
calcium pills

Today’s article will not focus on a disease or a specific symptom. I won’t solve any mysteries or suggest new euphemisms for bodily functions. Instead I am turning my attention to a much smaller thing. Actually, it’s about the smallest thing I could talk about: a single molecule, an element, and a substance vital for life called calcium.

Why Doctors Don’t Always Share Patient Test Results

Doctors order lots of tests on their patients, but are often reluctant to share the results with them. The reason for this is that the interpretation of lab tests is very complicated, and we don’t want to spend our time explaining what all of those letters and numbers mean. But the fact is, more people are accessing their own test results and trying to figure out what they mean. I hope this article will take a small step at reducing the confusion of patients and maybe even make those worried doctors happy.

Why Is Calcium Important?

Calcium is an element, meaning it is a unique atom, made up of a certain number of protons and electrons. Calcium is often combined with other elements to form molecules, but often acts on its own, doing its own calcium stuff in a way that only calcium could do. 

In your body, calcium is one of the most plentiful elements because of one thing: bones. Bones (and teeth) get their strength from calcium, and so most of the calcium in your body is just sitting around in bones, keeping them strong. But it does much more than that, floating around in the blood and helping the organs do what they need to do. One of its most important functions is to help muscles contract, including the heart muscle. So, the bottom line is this: without calcium you would be a dead pile of jelly.

How to Understand Calcium Levels

You have a certain level of calcium in your bloodstream, but that level is not really determined by how much calcium you eat. There are two kinds of cells in your bones that regulate your calcium level:

  • one that breaks down bone to release calcium into the bloodstream when your blood calcium is low, and
  • one that takes the calcium out of the bloodstream and deposits it in the bone when the blood levels are high 

These cells are regulated by a hormone called parathyroid hormone, which is put out (naturally) by the parathyroid glands, which are not part of the thyroid, but are surrounded by it. The parathyroid puts out more hormone in response to low calcium levels, making the bones break down and release calcium to the blood. If the level is high, the parathyroid gland lowers hormone levels and reduces breakdown of bone.

Pages

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.