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Your body and calcium

Coping with cancer

This page has information about the mineral calcium and what it does in our bodies. You can find information about

 

Why our body needs calcium

Calcium is a mineral that is stored in the bones. Nearly all the calcium in the body is stored in bone tissue. But a small amount (around 1%) circulates dissolved in the blood and other body fluids, or is inside our cells. This is needed for

  • Keeping bones and teeth healthy
  • Blood clotting
  • Normal functioning of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) and
  • Keeping our muscles working properly

If your blood calcium level gets too high or too low it can be dangerous. Having too much calcium in the blood is called hypercalcaemia (pronounced hyper-kal-seem-ia). Hypercalcaemia in cancer can be a serious problem for some people. Not having enough calcium is called hypocalcaemia (hypo-kal-seem-ia).

 

Where the body get its calcium from

Our diet gives us calcium. The foods highest in calcium include

  • Dairy products such as eggs, milk, butter and cheese – this is where most of our calcium comes from
  • Green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and beans
  • Nuts
  • Whole grain foods such as bread, rice and cereals

Our bodies absorb calcium from the food we eat through the lining of the bowel. The calcium is stored in the bones. The body controls the amount of calcium in the bloodstream very carefully. When blood levels of calcium fall too low, the bones release calcium into the blood. The amount of calcium absorbed from food in the bowel also increases. And the kidneys get rid of less calcium through the urine. If blood levels of calcium get too high, the opposite happens.

There are 3 hormones in the body that play an important role in this complicated control system. These are

  • Parathyroid hormone (PTH) – made by the parathyroid glands
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcitonin

These hormones help to keep the correct balance of calcium in the blood.

If this balance is upset, the amount of calcium in our blood can get too high (hypercalcaemia) and cause serious problems.

The main causes of hypercalcaemia are

  • Too much calcium leaking out of the bones into the blood
  • Your kidneys not being able to get rid of excess calcium
  • Taking in too much calcium from the foods we eat

We have information about hypercalcaemia in cancer and managing hypercalcaemia

 

Normal calcium levels

The level of calcium in the blood is normally between 2.1 mmol per litre and 2.6 mmol per litre.  But remember that blood levels can vary a little from person to person. If your calcium level goes above or below this, then you might need treatment.

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Updated: 26 March 2014