Although lime (calcium oxide) has been known since ancient times, elemental calcium was first isolated by Sir Humphry Davy in 1808. Today, calcium metal is usually prepared by electrolysis of fused calcium chloride to which a little calcium fluoride has been added. It is used in alloys with other metals, such as aluminum, lead, or copper; in preparation of other metals, such as thorium and uranium, by reduction; and (like barium) in the manufacture of vacuum tubes to remove residual gases.
The metal is of little commercial importance compared to its compounds, which are widely and diversely used. The element is a constituent of lime (see calcium oxide), chloride of lime (bleaching powder), mortar, plaster, cement (see cement, concrete, whiting, putty, precipitated chalk, gypsum, and plaster of Paris. Tremolite, a form of asbestos, is a naturally occurring compound of calcium, magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. Calcium carbide reacts with water to form acetylene gas; it is also used to prepare calcium cyanamide, which is used as a fertilizer. The phosphate is a major constituent of bone ash. The arsenate and the cyanide are used as insecticides. Calcium bicarbonate causes temporary hardness in water; calcium sulfate causes permanent hardness. Generally, calcium compounds show an orange or yellow-red color when held in the Bunsen burner flame.
Although calcium is the fifth most abundant element in the earth's crust, of which it constitutes about 3.6%, it is not found uncombined. It is found widely distributed in its compounds, e.g., Iceland spar, marble, limestone, feldspar, apatite, calcite, dolomite, fluorite, garnet, and labradorite. It is a constituent of most plant and animal matter.
Calcium is essential to the formation and maintenance of strong bones and teeth. In the human adult the bone calcium is chiefly in the form of the phosphate and carbonate salts. A sufficient store of vitamin D in the body is necessary for the proper utilization of calcium. Calcium also functions in the regulation of the heartbeat and in the conversion of prothrombin to thrombin, a necessary step in the clotting of blood.
Calcium is essential for living organisms, particularly in cell physiology, where movement of the calcium ion Ca2+ into and out of the cytoplasm functions as a signal for many cellular processes. As a major material used in mineralization of bones and shells, calcium is the most abundant metal by mass in many animals.
Chemically calcium is reactive and soft for a metal (though harder than lead, it can be cut with a knife with difficulty). It is a silvery metallic element that must be extracted by electrolysis from a fused salt like calcium chloride. Once produced, it rapidly forms a grey-white oxide and nitride coating when exposed to air. It is somewhat difficult to ignite, unlike magnesium, but when lit, the metal burns in air with a brilliant high-intensity red light. Calcium metal reacts with water, evolving hydrogen gas at a rate rapid enough to be noticeable, but not fast enough at room temperature to generate much heat. In powdered form, however, the reaction with water is extremely rapid, as the increased surface area of the powder accelerates the reaction with the water. Part of the slowness of the calcium-water reaction results from the metal being partly protected by insoluble white calcium hydroxide. In water solutions of acids where the salt is water soluble, calcium reacts vigorously.
Calcium, though it has a higher resistivity than copper or aluminium, weight for weight, allowing for its much lower density calcium is a rather better conductor than either. However, its use in terrestrial applications is usually limited by its high reactivity with air. In vacuum use, calcium tends to sublime unless plated.
Calcium salts are colorless from any contribution of the calcium, and ionic solutions of calcium (Ca2+) are colorless as well. Many calcium salts are not soluble in water. When in solution, the calcium ion to the human taste varies remarkably, being reported as mildly salty, sour, "mineral like" or even "soothing." It is apparent that many animals can taste, or develop a taste, for calcium, and use this sense to detect the mineral in salt licks or other sources. In human nutrition, soluble calcium salts may be added to tart juices without much effect to the average palate.
Calcium is the fifth most abundant element by mass in the human body, where it is a common cellular ionic messenger with many functions, and serves also as a structural element in bone. It is the relatively high atomic-numbered calcium in the skeleton which causes bone to be radio-opaque. Of the human body's solid components after drying (as for example, after cremation), about a third of the total mass is the approximately one kilogram of calcium which composes the average skeleton (the remainder being mostly phosphorus and oxygen).
See also Calcium minerals.
Calcium oxide (lime) is used in many chemical refinery processes and is made by heating and carefully adding water to limestone. When lime is mixed with sand, it hardens into a mortar and is turned into plaster by carbon dioxide uptake. Mixed with other compounds, lime forms an important part of Portland cement.
Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) is one of the common compounds of calcium. It is heated to form quicklime (CaO), which is then added to water (H2O). This forms another material known as slaked lime (Ca(OH)2), which is an inexpensive base material used throughout the chemical industry. Chalk, marble, and limestone are all forms of calcium carbonate.
When water percolates through limestone or other soluble carbonate rocks, it partially dissolves the rock and causes cave formation and characteristic stalactites and stalagmites and also forms hard water. Other important calcium compounds are calcium nitrate, calcium sulfide, calcium chloride, calcium carbide, calcium cyanamide and calcium hypochlorite.
97% of naturally occurring calcium is in the form of 40Ca. 40Ca is one of the daughter products of 40K decay, along with 40Ar. While K-Ar dating has been used extensively in the geological sciences, the prevalence of 40Ca in nature has impeded its use in dating. Techniques using mass spectrometry and a double spike isotope dilution have been used for K-Ca age dating.
The most abundant isotope, 40Ca, has a nucleus of 20 protons and 20 neutrons. This is the heaviest stable isotope of any element which has equal numbers of protons and neutrons. In supernova explosions, calcium is formed from the reaction of carbon with various numbers of alpha particles (helium nuclei), until the most common calcium isotope (containing 10 helium nuclei) has been synthesized.
Calcium is an important component of a healthy diet. Calcium is essential for the normal growth and maintenance of bones and teeth, and calcium requirements must be met throughout life. Long-term calcium deficiency can lead to rickets and poor blood clotting and in case of a menopausal woman, it can lead to osteoporosis, in which the bone deteriorates and there is an increased risk of fractures. While a lifelong deficit can affect bone and tooth formation, over-retention can cause hypercalcemia (elevated levels of calcium in the blood), impaired kidney function and decreased absorption of other minerals. High calcium intakes or high calcium absorption were previously thought to contribute to the development of kidney stones. However, more recent studies show that high dietary calcium intakes actually decrease the risk for kidney stones. Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium.
Dairy products, such as milk and cheese, are a well-known source of calcium. However, some individuals are allergic to dairy products and even more people, particularly those of non Indo-European descent, are lactose-intolerant, leaving them unable to consume non-fermented dairy products in quantities larger than about half a liter per serving. Others, such as vegans, avoid dairy products for ethical and health reasons. Fortunately, many good sources of calcium exist. These include seaweeds such as kelp, wakame and hijiki; nuts and seeds (like almonds and sesame); blackstrap molasses; beans; oranges; figs; quinoa; amaranth; collard greens; okra; rutabaga; broccoli; dandelion leaves; kale; and fortified products such as orange juice and soy milk. (However, calcium fortified orange juice often contains vitamin D3 derived from lanolin, and is thus unacceptable for vegans. ) An overlooked source of calcium is eggshell, which can be ground into a powder and mixed into food or a glass of water. Cultivated vegetables generally have less calcium than wild plants.
The calcium content of most foods can be found in the USDA National Nutrient Database.
Calcium supplements are used to prevent and to treat calcium deficiencies. Most experts recommend that supplements be taken with food and that no more than 600 mg should be taken at a time because the percent of calcium absorbed decreases as the amount of calcium in the supplement increases. It is recommended to spread doses throughout the day. Recommended daily calcium intake for adults ranges from 1000 to 1500 mg. It is recommended to take supplements with food to aid in absorption.
Vitamin D is added to some calcium supplements. Vitamin D is not necessary, but it might be beneficial if the person has low vitamin D status. Proper vitamin D status is important because vitamin D is converted to a hormone in the body which then induces the synthesis of intestinal proteins responsible for calcium absorption.
The National Nutritional Food Association — NNFA (Newport Beach, Calif.) defines a chelate very specifically, and several criteria must be met in order for chelation to actually occur. Some of the claimed "chelates" on the market are the various Krebs (Citric Acid) Cycle chelates, such as citrate, malate, and aspartate. Dicalcium malate (chelated with malic acid) is a newer form of a true calcium chelate. It contains a high amount of elemental calcium (30%).
In July 2006, a report citing research from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington claimed that women in their 50s gained 5 pounds less in a period of 10 years by taking more than 500 mg of calcium supplements than those who did not. However, the doctor in charge of the study, Dr. Alejandro J. Gonzalez also noted it would be "going out on a limb" to suggest calcium supplements as a weight-limiting aid.
More recent studies were conflicting, and one which was positive for effect (Lappe, et al.) did control for a possible anti-carcinogenic effect of vitamin D, which was found to be an independent positive influence from calcium-alone on cancer risk (see second study below) .