When you think of calcium you think of bones-strong bones-and rightfully so. More than 99 percent of the total calcium in your body is found in your bones. Researchers, however, are finding that calcium’s good deeds go well beyond our bones: this mineral may have a health impact on several other areas of your body.

The heart connection-High blood pressure affects one in every four Americans and is considered a major risk factor for heart disease. Keeping blood pressure under control (120/80 mm/Hg or less) can significantly reduce a person’s chances of having heart problems. Many studies have shown that people with high blood pressure tend to have diets low in calcium-when they ate a diet rich in calcium, blood pressure dropped. Some research has also suggested that calcium may help heart health by lowering LDL cholesterol levels (the cholesterol carrier that deposits plaque on artery walls).

The stroke connection-A recent study of 86,000 women found that those who had a higher amount of calcium in their diet had a lower risk for stroke than women who ate little calcium. Researchers are not sure if it’s calcium’s ability to lower blood cholesterol that reduces stroke risk or, if calcium helps prevent dangerous blood clots from forming which would otherwise cause a stroke.

The cancer connection-There appears to be a link between a diet rich in calcium and a lower incidence of colon cancer. It is possible that calcium stalls the growth of abnormal cells in the colon, dilutes or neutralizes the effects of cancer-causing substances passing through the intestine or perhaps counteracts the harmful effects of a high-fat diet. Calcium has also been linked to breast cancer. Laboratory studies have shown that too little calcium and vitamin D, along with a high fat diet, can cause changes in breast tissue. Those changes were reversed when calcium and vitamin D levels were increased. It’s unclear if calcium is solely responsible for these cancer-protecting benefits or if it works in conjunction with vitamin D and other nutrients.

Other connections-Very preliminary findings from a national nutrition survey suggest there may be a link between how much calcium a person eats and the risk of being overweight. According to the survey, the less calcium consumed, the greater the likelihood of obesity. In addition, calcium and vitamin D may reverse a leading cause of infertility in women-polycystic ovary syndrome, and there is data showing that calcium may help reduce the symptoms of PMS.

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