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Calcium plays an important role in the development and maintenance of bones in the body. It is also needed in tooth formation and is important in other body functions. Normally, the body maintains a balance between the amount of calcium in food sources and the calcium already available in the body's tissues. The balance can be upset if excess amounts of calcium are eaten or if the body is unable to process the mineral because of disease.

Calcium is one of the most important and most abundant minerals in the human body. Dairy products are the major source of calcium. Eggs, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, legumes, nuts, and whole grains provide smaller amounts. Only about 10-30% of the calcium in food is absorbed into the body. Most calcium is found in combination with other dietary components and must be broken down by the digestive system before it can be used. Calcium is absorbed into the body in the small intestine. Its absorption is influenced by such factors as the amount of vitamin D hormone available to aid the process and the levels of calcium already present in the body. As much as 99% of the body's calcium is stored in bone tissue. A healthy person experiences a constant turnover of calcium as bone tissue is built and reshaped. The remaining 1% of the body's calcium circulates in the blood and other body fluids. Circulating calcium plays an important role in the control of many body functions, such as blood clotting, transmission of nerve impulses, muscle contraction, and other metabolic activities. In the bloodstream, calcium maintains a constant balance with another mineral, phosphate.

Two main control agents are vital in maintaining calcium levels, vitamin D hormone and parathyroid hormone. A hormone is a chemical substance that is formed in one organ or part of the body and carried in the blood to another organ. It can alter the function, and sometimes the structure, of one or more organs.

  • Parathyroid hormone (PTH). The four parathyroid glands are endocrine glands located next to the thyroid gland in the neck. A gland is a cell or group of cells that produces a material substance (secretion). When the level of calcium circulating in the blood drops, the parathyroid gland releases its hormone. PTH then acts in three ways to restore the normal blood calcium level. It stimulates the absorption of more calcium in the intestine; it takes more calcium from the bone tissue, and it causes the kidneys to excrete more phosphate.
  • Vitamin D hormone. This hormone works with parathyroid hormone to control calcium absorption and affects the deposit of calcium and phosphate in the bone tissue.

The kidneys also help to control calcium levels. Healthy kidneys can increase calcium excretion almost fivefold to maintain normal concentrations in the body. Hypercalcemia can occur when the concentration of calcium overwhelms the ability of the kidneys to maintain balance.

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