Calcium is an essential mineral with several important functions throughout the body. It plays a role in keeping teeth healthy, regulating muscle contractions, and releasing hormones. It’s also the most important mineral for maintaining healthy bones.

As a result, not getting enough calcium can place you at a higher risk of developing conditions like osteoporosis.

With this in mind, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about calcium, including how much you need and what the best sources are.

What is calcium?

What is calcium

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and it’s essential for healthy bodily function.

While calcium is most commonly associated with healthy bones, this isn’t its only role. For example, it’s needed to circulate blood, contract muscles, and maintain effective communication between the brain and other parts of the body, such as the heart.

Our bodies don’t produce calcium, so we have to get it through our diet. This becomes more important with age because calcium levels naturally decline as we get older.

It’s also important that we prioritise our vitamin D intake, because, without it, the body can’t absorb calcium properly. This means that we can’t fully benefit from a calcium-rich diet if our vitamin D levels are low.

What are the health benefits and functions of calcium?

What are the health benefits and functions of calcium

We know that calcium is essential for health, but what exactly are its benefits and functions within the body?

1. Calcium is essential for bone health

Roughly 99% of all calcium in the body is found in our bones, and we need it to keep them strong and healthy.

Throughout our lives, our bones are in a constant state of being broken down and replaced by new cells – so we need a constant supply of calcium to keep this process going steady. If we don’t consume enough calcium, the body begins removing it from the bones instead, which can weaken bone density and make them more fragile and prone to fracture.

Calcium for bone health is also something that becomes especially important with age because research shows that our bone density and strength start decreasing around age 35. This gradually increases the risk of developing bone conditions like osteoporosis.

For menopausal women in particular, research has found that in the three years following a woman’s final menstrual period, bone loss can be rapid and leave women four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.

Focusing on and/or upping calcium intake, therefore, has been marked as one of the most important preventative measures against weakened bones. For example, in this study of 750 postmenopausal women, those who ate more calcium-rich dairy products had significantly higher bone density than those who ate less.

To find out more about the role calcium plays in bone health, check out this page of the Royal Osteoporosis website. And for other ways to strengthen and protect your bones, you might want to read our article; 9 ways to improve bone health.

2. Calcium is important for oral health

We know that not getting enough calcium affects bone health – and this includes our teeth.

Calcium strengthens tooth enamel (the outer shell that protects them from harm) and helps to protect against the development of tooth decay, cavities, corrosion, and gum disease caused by bacteria. It also plays a role in remineralisation, which is a natural tooth repair process that helps to repair damage caused by bacteria.

As a result, research has drawn a link between poor calcium intake and tooth loss. For example, in this study, participants who consumed less than the recommended amount of calcium were more likely to lose at least one tooth over a two-year period.

3. Calcium is important for healthy blood pressure

Calcium is important for healthy blood pressure because it enables blood vessels to tighten and relax when they need to. As a result, fuelling your body with enough calcium has also been found to help lower blood pressure to a healthy level.

For example, in this review, increased calcium intake slightly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in both male and female participants aged between 11 and 82 years old.

Other research has also linked a low calcium intake with an increased likelihood of high blood pressure and other related diseases like vascular disease and stroke. Consuming calcium in association with vitamin D has been found to be especially protective against these risks.

Calcium is important for healthy blood pressure

4. Calcium can contribute towards healthy weight loss

New research has suggested that eating a calcium-rich diet may aid healthy weight loss.

For example, during this study of overweight people following a calorie-restricted diet, group one was given three daily servings of yoghurt, which contained 1,100mg of calcium. Meanwhile, group two received 400-500mg of calcium supplements.

Group one lost an average of 5.9kg and 1.5 inches around their waist, compared with group two who lost 2.7kg and less than a quarter of an inch from their waist. Weight loss also occurred mainly around the midsection, which is an important place to lose weight for various health reasons.

In support of these findings, experts have suggested that consuming a calcium-rich diet may boost weight loss by as much as 70%.

5. Calcium may reduce the risk of kidney stones

Research has shown that not eating enough calcium-rich foods can increase the risk of kidney stones.

Intake of skimmed or low-fat milk, cottage cheese, and ricotta has been shown to have the greatest protective effects. For example, in this study, drinking two or more glasses of skimmed milk a day led to a 42% lower risk of developing kidney stones than drinking less than one glass of skimmed milk a month.

Eating two or more half-cup servings of ricotta or cottage cheese has also been linked with a 30% reduced risk of kidney stones. These effects are believed to be the result of calcium’s ability to reduce the absorption of oxalates, which make up the stones.

6. Calcium may help women live longer

As we know, postmenopausal women are encouraged to take calcium supplements to protect them against bone conditions like osteoporosis. However, new research has also shown that getting enough calcium may also help women live longer.

For example, this study tracked the health of 9,033 people for 12 years, during which time, 1,160 participants died. It found that the women who took calcium supplements were much healthier than other participants and were likely to have longer lifespans. These protective benefits, however, did not extend to men.

7. Calcium may reduce the risk of colon cancer

There’s growing evidence to suggest that calcium may help to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

For example, this review assessed the effects of calcium supplements on the development of colon cancer – looking specifically at adenomas (non-cancerous tumours that become cancerous). It found that consuming 1,200mg of calcium a day for four years led to a 26% reduction in new colorectal adenomas.

In addition, researchers have reported strong evidence to suggest that supplements of more than 200mg of calcium a day and intake of calcium-rich foods are likely to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer. They noted that this could be down to calcium’s ability to bind to toxic substances in the colon and prevent the growth of tumour cells.

Note: The general recommended daily intake of calcium for UK adults is 700mg. Some people may need more, but it’s important to always speak to your doctor before increasing your intake of calcium.

How much calcium do I need and what are the best sources?

Getting enough calcium is important at every stage of life, but some people may need to consume more than others. The exact amount you need will depend on a variety of factors including age, gender, and whether or not you have any health conditions.

As a general rule of thumb, the NHS recommends that adults consume at least 700mg of calcium per day. However, The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that women aim for 1,000mg of calcium a day, rising to 1,200mg of calcium when over 50, as a preventative measure against menopausal bone loss.

Other conditions, including coeliac disease, can also warrant a higher intake of calcium. Though, it’s important to always speak to your doctor before increasing your intake of calcium to seek advice on what’s right for you. This is because having too much calcium in the body can weaken bones and interfere with heart and brain function.

You can get calcium from a variety of foods – both dairy and non-dairy products. We’ll cover some of these below…

High-calcium dairy products

  • 100ml cow’s milk (120mg)
  • 100ml sheep’s milk (170mg)
  • 30g cheddar cheese (222mg)
  • 120g plain low-fat yoghurt (181mg)
  • 200g rice pudding (198mg)
  • 120ml custard (110-127mg)

High calcium non-dairy products

  • 100ml calcium-fortified, plant-based milk alternative including soya, oat, nut, and coconut (120-189mg)
  • 100g uncooked soya bean tofu set with calcium chloride (E509) (350-400mg)
  • 30g calcium-fortified cereals (136-174mg)
  • 60g sardines (273-407mg)
  • 50g whitebait (430mg)
  • 100g wholemeal bread (106mg)
  • 100g boiled kale (150mg)

The Association of UK Dieticians has a comprehensive list of calcium-rich foods if you’d like to explore more options.

What are the symptoms of calcium deficiency and who’s at risk?

Calcium deficiency (also called hypocalcemia) can be caused by a variety of factors, including…

  • Poor calcium intake over a period of time – especially during childhood
  • Dietary intolerance to foods rich in calcium
  • Being on medication that reduces calcium absorption
  • Kidney failure
  • Surgeries that remove the stomach or alter aspects of the digestive tract
  • Hormonal changes, especially in women
  • Age – as bone density naturally decreases as we get older

Other causes of calcium deficiency include having low levels of vitamin D, which makes it harder to absorb calcium; certain medications, including phenytoin and rifampin; pancreatitis; renal failure; and certain chemotherapy drugs.

If you miss your daily dose of calcium, you won’t become deficient overnight. Though it’s still important to make an effort to reach your calcium requirements each day because the body uses it very quickly.

Vegans are more likely to become calcium deficient quickly because they don’t eat calcium-rich dairy products.

Calcium deficiency doesn’t tend to produce short-term symptoms because the body will temporarily maintain calcium levels by taking it directly from your bones. However, long-term calcium deficiency can cause serious side effects.

For example, long-term symptoms of calcium deficiency include…

  • Memory loss or confusion
  • Numbness and tingling in the face, hands, and feet
  • Depression
  • Muscle spasms
  • Easy fracturing of bones
  • Weak and brittle nails

If you’re concerned about your calcium intake or are experiencing symptoms of calcium deficiency, it’s important to book an appointment with your GP, who’ll be able to advise you on the best next steps.

Final thoughts…


Calcium is an essential mineral needed to keep our bodies running smoothly. As we know, calcium plays a vital role in bone health, so staying on top of our calcium intake can also help to protect us against conditions like osteoporosis.

But there are various other benefits too, as calcium is also important for oral health, blood pressure, and healthy weight loss.

For further reading, head over to the diet and nutrition section of our website. Here, you’ll find vitamin and mineral guides on everything from vitamins A, C, and K, to manganese and potassium. And to find out more about osteoporosis, check out the ROS website.