Calcium is an important mineral for your health. The body uses calcium to build strong teeth and bones, and it’s also necessary for your heart and other muscles to function properly. Most adults between the ages of 19 and 50 need to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day, but not everyone does. Here is what everyone should know about calcium including how it helps you and how you can increase your calcium intake.
Table of Contents
- The Importance of Calcium for Your Health
- What Causes Calcium Deficiency?
- Calcium-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet
- Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency
- Should You Take a Calcium Supplement?
- When Should You See a Doctor?
The Importance of Calcium for Your Health
If you don’t get enough calcium then you could be at risk for developing certain disorders, such as osteoporosis or calcium deficiency disease. Children that aren’t getting enough calcium may not grow to their full height potential as adults.
Calcium is important for your overall health, and every cell in the body uses calcium in some way. Areas that depend the most on calcium include the nervous system, heart, bones, and muscles. Bones also store calcium to help provide support for the body. The body keeps the calcium in your blood at a certain narrow range, which allows the cells in your body to stay healthy and perform the jobs that are necessary for you to keep living.
When the levels are low and the amount of calcium in the blood is below normal, the parathyroid glands release a hormone called PTH (parathyroid hormone). This hormone tells the bones to then release calcium into the blood stream. This same hormone also helps activate Vitamin D in the body, which is important for calcium absorption.
Most of the calcium in the body is found in the teeth and bones, and calcium is necessary for the growth, development, and maintenance of the bone. When you are a child, calcium contributes to the development of the bones. Once you stop growing, the calcium contributes to the maintenance of bones.
Calcium helps with regulation of muscle contraction. When a nerve is stimulating a muscle, the body is releasing calcium. Calcium helps proteins in the muscle carry out the work of a contraction, and when the body pumps the calcium out of the muscles, the muscles starts to relax.
Calcium is important for blood clotting. The whole process of clotting is complicated and there are a lot of steps that involve different chemicals, and one of these is calcium. The main role in the cardiovascular system is maintaining the actions of the heart muscle. There are also studies that indicate a link between lower blood pressure and high consumption of calcium.
What Causes Calcium Deficiency?
Many people can be at a higher risk for calcium deficiency issues as they get older. This can be for different factors, including:
- Medications that hinder calcium absorption
- Dietary intolerance to foods that are high in calcium
- Hormonal changes, especially for women
- Genetic factors
People of all ages need to be mindful of their calcium intake. However, women should be increasing their calcium intake earlier in life than men and should begin increasing this intake as they approach menopause. During menopause, estrogen levels in the body decrease, which causes bones to thin faster. Increased calcium levels can help reduce the chances of calcium deficiency disease and osteoporosis.
The disorder hyperparathyroidism can also cause calcium deficiency. Those who have this condition don’t produce enough parathyroid hormone, which helps control the levels in the blood.
It’s also possible to have calcium deficiency because of malabsorption or malnutrition. Malnutrition is when you aren’t getting enough nutrients in your diet, and malabsorption is when the body isn’t able to absorb minerals and vitamins you need from the foods you are eating. If you have low levels of Vitamin D, it makes it harder to absorb calcium. Different medications, such as Rifampin and corticosteroids, also make it harder to absorb calcium. Medications that are used to treat elevated calcium levels can cause calcium deficiency if not used properly. Other things that inhibit calcium absorption can include:
- Septic shock
- Renal failure
- Some chemotherapy drugs
- Removal of the parathyroid gland
- Massive blood transfusions
If you miss a dose of calcium, you aren’t going to become calcium deficient overnight. However, it’s still important to get enough calcium every day since the body does use it pretty quickly. Vegans can become calcium deficient much faster since they don’t eat any dairy products, which are richer in calcium. Calcium deficiency doesn’t produce any short-term symptoms because your body will maintain the current calcium levels and take it directly from the bones. However, long-term levels of low calcium will have more serious effects.
Calcium-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet
Many dairy foods contain calcium. However, there are plenty of foods that also contain calcium that don’t also contain dairy. This is good news for those who are vegan or are lactose intolerant or have dairy alergies.
- Soy Milk: A cup of soy milk has about the same calcium as a cup of cow’s milk, as long as you are choosing a product that is fortified with calcium carbonate. Soy milk also has Vitamin D and less saturated fat that normal whole milk.
- Almonds: One cup of almonds has about 385 mg of calcium, which is one-third of the recommend amount daily. However, there will be a lot of calories and fat when it comes to this serving of almonds.
- Dried Figs: One serving of figs, which is only about one cup, contains 241 mg of calcium. These can be used as a great midday snack that is high in antioxidants and fiber.
- Tofu: Tofu is a calcium-rich food but the calcium content will vary depending on the brand and the firmness you choose. In order to get the benefits of calcium, be sure to read the label carefully.
- White Beans: One cup has about 161 mg of calcium. They are also rich in iron and a low-fat food. You can add them to a salad, soup, or side dish.
- Sunflower Seeds: One cup of sunflower seeds contains about 109 mg of calcium. The seeds also have some other benefits, including being rich in magnesium, along with copper and Vitamin E. Sunflower seeds can have a lot of salt, which can deplete the body’s level of calcium. In order to get optimal benefits, chose unsalted seeds.
- Homemade Ice Cream: When you make ice cream from scratch in an ice cream maker, you can control exactly which ingredients it’s made from. If you want to have fun getting your calcium, you can use ingredients that are formulated to have extra calcium. Of course, you’ll want to make sure this isn’t an every meal or every day source of calcium.
Certain foods that are high in calcium, like dairy products, can also be high in trans fat and saturated fat. You may consider choosing fat-free or low-fat options in order to reduce the risk of developing heart disease or high cholesterol.
Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency
Even though there aren’t short-term symptoms of calcium deficiency, there are plenty of long-term effects that you should be on the lookout for in order to remain healthy.
Because calcium plays a role in muscle signaling and contraction, when the levels are off, it can cause muscle spasms. This is the most common sign of calcium deficiency. You can experience muscle cramps in your leg or arm muscles, or notice twitching or spasming.
The sarcoplasmic reticulum is a structure in the muscle cells that stores calcium. If calcium isn’t released properly, it can result in fatigue. Fatigue can be a non-specific symptom, so you should also look out for other symptoms and speak with your doctor.
Nail & Skin Symptoms
Your nails, skin, and hair are part of the ectodermal system and all three can be affected by lower calcium levels. Specifically, your nails can become brittle and break easily, which is known as leukonychia. Your hair can become coarse, and your skin can become dry and rough.
Osteopenia & Osteoporosis
Bone loss for women starts about the same time as menopause. This is when the amount of calcium exerted by the body increases, which is why the body requires more calcium than normal. Estrogen helps the gut absorb calcium, and the dropping levels of estrogen during menopause are why women lose more calcium as they age. For men, bone loss starts around age 55. While men don’t go through menopause, they still need more calcium once they hit this age.
Osteoporosis is the loss of bone density, and osteopenia means having weaker than normal bones. Low calcium won’t be the only cause of osteoporosis, but it does contribute a lot to bone density problems.
Painful Premenstrual Syndrome
Low calcium levels have been linked with severe PMS. Low levels of calcium and Vitamin D during the second half of your menstrual cycle can contribute to more severe symptoms.
Tooth decay is one of the most common conditions in the country. Low calcium intake during the childhood years can be a sign that there could be future tooth decay.
There is some mixed research about whether or not low calcium can cause depression. An analysis looked at studies related to calcium, magnesium, and depression. There was a link between low magnesium and depression, but not exactly calcium and depression. However, magnesium deficiency can cause a low calcium status.
Neonatal hypocalcemia is the low levels of calcium in infants, and it can happen soon after birth. Many cases of this disease happen within the first two days after birth, but it can also happen later. Risk factors for this include maternal diabetes and being small for the age. Symptoms of this are different than calcium deficiency, and can include apnea, or slower breathing, a faster than normal heartbeat, seizures, poor feeding, and jitteriness.
Should You Take a Calcium Supplement?
As a child, you are told to drink more milk in order to increase your calcium intake. However, as an adult, it may make more sense to take a calcium supplement. Some doctors may recommend that women take calcium supplements after menopause if they are not able to get the recommended amount through their diet. You may also want to take a calcium supplement if you are a vegan, have a high-sodium or high-protein diet that causes the body to excrete more calcium, have osteoporosis, are treated with corticosteroids over a long period of time, or have a health condition that will limit the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
There are benefits of calcium supplements, including preventing bone loss, helping with fat loss, lowering the risk of colon cancer, and improving metabolic markers. There are also some dangers of calcium supplements, so it’s always important to talk to your doctor before starting any additional supplements. Some negative effects of calcium supplements include an increased risk of heart disease or a higher risk of kidney stones.
Multivitamins don’t contain all the calcium you need, so you may not be able to rely on your current multivitamin for your calcium support. In addition to a calcium supplement, you may also want to ask a doctor about Vitamin D supplements because it important for calcium absorption, and you may need a specific amount. In addition to a Vitamin D supplement, you can eat foods that are rich in Vitamin D, including Portobello mushrooms, eggs, and fatty fish such as tuna or salmon. Sunlight also triggers your body to make Vitamin D, so regular exposure to some sun helps boost Vitamin D levels.
If you are going to take a calcium supplement, you need to be aware of some things. You should choose your dose wisely because taking in more calcium than you need can cause other problems. It’s possible that you may also need to split up the dose, because your body isn’t able to absorb a large amount of calcium at once. In general, you should avoid taking more than 500 mg of calcium at one time if it’s in the form of a supplement.
There are two main supplements to choose from: calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is the most widely available form and usually the cheapest, but this type is likely to cause more side effects. Calcium citrate is more expensive, and you have to take more to get the recommended amount you need. However, it can be a good choice for those with irritable bowel syndrome and low levels of stomach acid.
When Should You See a Doctor?
If you have any symptoms of calcium deficiency disease, you should see your doctor. Your doctor will review your medical history and ask about any family history of osteoporosis and calcium deficiency. If your doctor thinks that you could have a calcium deficiency then they will take a blood sample in order to check the blood calcium level. Doctors measure the total calcium level, along with your albumin level.
Albumin is a protein that binds to the calcium in your body and transports it through the blood. If you have sustained low calcium levels in your blood, this could from a diagnosis of calcium deficiency disease. A calcium level of less than 8.8 mg/dl can mean you are at risk for calcium deficiency disease, and you will need to make some changes in the form of dietary changes or supplements. Teens and children usually have higher blood levels for calcium than adults so the numbers could be different.
Calcium is an important part of the human body. A calcium deficiency happens when there is not enough calcium in the body. When you notice some signs of a calcium deficiency, it’s important to visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and to get an idea of whether or not you need to add more calcium to your diet with supplements or other calcium-rich foods.