Calcium plays a huge role in the health of your bones. It protects you from osteoporosis. Not only does it help strengthen your teeth and bones, it also works as a cell-signaling pathway messenger throughout your body which is important for:
- Transmission of nerve signals
- Normal cell function
- Muscle contraction
- Secretion of hormones
- Blood coagulation
- Muscle relaxation
Calcium deficiency is below the optimal blood level of calcium. The medical term for this is hypocalcemia and this can affect your nervous system causing:
- Muscle cramps
- Spasms of your feet and hands (tetany)
- Overly active reflexes
- Abdominal cramps
If you have a chronic calcium deficiency, it can lead to osteomalacia (soft bones), poor mineralization of bones and osteoporosis. It can lead to impaired growth and rickets in children.
Difference Between Calcium Deficiency and Calcium Inadequacy
Usually, a genuine calcium deficiency doesn’t have anything to do with your diet. It’s actually caused by medical conditions and certain medications that lower your calcium blood levels.
If you’re not getting enough calcium from the foods and beverages you consume, you could end up with dietary calcium deficiency, but this is rare. In most cases, people get plenty of calcium from calcium-rich foods.
What’s more common is calcium inadequacy and is where you’re not getting the recommended amount of calcium in your diet.
There are four groups that have a higher risk for calcium inadequacy. These are:
- Vegans and Lactose Intolerant Individuals: In most diets, dairy is where you’ll get most of your calcium. However, if you’re avoiding dairy products, you could be depriving yourself of this essential mineral.
- Postmenopausal Women: When going through menopause and after, women don’t produce as much estrogen as they used to. This reduces their absorption of calcium and increases the breakdown of old bone (bone resorption) which could result in osteoporosis.
- Women with Amenorrhea: This is a health condition where your menstrual period stops (or doesn’t ever start) because of a hormonal imbalance, low body weight, stress and other reasons. When you don’t get your period, it reduces estrogen levels and may affect the balance of calcium.
In addition, some chemo-therapy treatments can reduce calcium levels.
Signs and Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency
Symptoms of calcium deficiency can vary widely and may range from no symptoms to mild or severe and even life-threatening. Not getting enough calcium can produce certain symptoms such as:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Tingling and numbness in your toes and fingers or around your mouth
- Dry skin
- Coarse hair
- Chronic itching
- Brittle nails
- Muscle weakness
- Heart failure
- Chest pain
- Muscle cramps
- Tooth decay
- Osteoporosis symptoms (gradual loss of height, backache, fracture of wrist, spine or hip or stooped posture)
If your physician thinks you may have a calcium deficiency, they may order some blood work.
How Calcium Deficiency is Treated
Treating calcium deficiency is essential to maintain strong bones and prevent long-term health problems. There are several ways to treat this condition, including:
1. Dietary Changes
It may be as simple as increasing your consumption of calcium-rich foods if you’re in your early stages of calcium deficiency. You should also increase your intake of magnesium-rich foods and foods with a good source of Vitamin D. Some examples of food to eat include:
- Bread (mixed grain or wholemeal)
- Baked beans
- Chicken (roasted no skin)
- Spinach (magnesium-rich)
- Yogurt (low fat or plain)
- Milk (reduced fat or skim)
- Almonds (magnesium-rich)
- Cheese (mild)
If you still can’t get adequate calcium from your diet, your physician may recommend calcium supplements. Calcium supplements come in tablets, liquid or chewable forms. It’s also important to work with your doctor to ensure you don’t get excessive calcium from supplements, which could increase your risk of kidney disease.
If you’re still not seeing results with supplements and diet changes, your doctor may need to give you regular calcium injections to regulate your calcium levels.
Keep in mind; you can get too much calcium as well. This is referred to as hypercalcemia. Certain health problems can lead to your body developing excessive calcium stores or you can simply be getting too much by taking supplements. Knowing which one it is, however, can be tricky. Therefore, it’s important you work closely with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan that works for your individual case.