We all have heard about the benefits of drinking milk. But, what makes milk so healthy? The answer is Calcium.
Calcium is an essential mineral required by the human body to build bones and teeth and to keep them strong.
Calcium not only keeps your bones and teeth healthy but also manages the function of the heart, muscles and nervous system.
Although Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our body, calcium deficiency or low calcium level in blood is a well-known health condition.
Is calcium deficiency very common?
A study done in 2015 reveals that 3.5 B people are at a high risk of Calcium deficiency.
Calcium deficiency is also known as Hypocalcemia. Often going unnoticed at early stages over time, it can cause severe health issues like Osteopenia and Osteoporosis.
But, to treat any health condition, we first have to identify its symptoms.
Symptoms of Calcium deficiency are vast and may vary from person to person.
So, how could one spot calcium deficiency symptoms?
In the beginning, symptoms of Hypocalcemia are very usual and similar to other health issues and many times go unnoticeable.
Early symptoms of Hypocalcemia are:
- Too much constipation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sleepiness or confusion
- Muscle spasm
- Redundant urination
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Back pain
- Dental problems.
If a person has the above symptoms, they need to talk to their doctor. Calcium deficiency and calcium inadequacy can lead to severe conditions of Hypocalcemia. Following are the symptoms of severe Hypocalcemia:
- Numbness and tingling in fingers, feet, face
- Convulsions and tetany
- Abnormal heart rate
- weak and brittle nails
- Frequent memory loss or forgetfulness
- Pain in bones and joints
- Cracking sound of bones
- Depression or low mood
- Difficulty swallowing
- Too many fractures: Osteopenia and osteoporosis
Calcium helps in the contraction of muscles. Low Calcium in the blood causes cramps, muscle spasms. it can also cause:
- Muscle ache, pain in arms and thighs
- Numbness of hands, arms and around the mouth area.
Convulsions and other seizures
Muscle spasms like convulsions, tetany and other seizures are often found to be related to Hypocalcemia. Low Calcium level increases neuronal excitability. These conditions are also related to thyroid disease which is again a possible cause of hypocalcemia.
Heart problems like Abnormal heart rhythm, high blood pressure(Hypertension) and anxiety could also be symptoms of calcium deficiency as calcium is responsible for heart contractions too.
Mental Health Conditions
Depression, confusion and forgetfulness etc. mental health conditions are also symptoms of Hypocalcemia. Calcium helps in transmitting messages between the brain and body, thus calcium deficiency can lead to several mental health issues.
Dermatological Symptoms: Skin and Hair
- Dry skin
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
All these symptoms are maybe related to calcium deficiency.
Calcium assists the release of hormones, change in calcium level in the blood can result in mood swings. Some studies disclose relations between calcium, vitamin D deficiency and severe premenstrual syndrome.
It can also cause other hormonal disorders.
Hypoglycemia go unnoticed because the body pulls calcium from bones and teeth to satisfy its low calcium level causing many dental problems like:
- Tooth decay
- Weak tooth roots, etc.
Osteopenia and Osteoporosis
Bones are tissues made up of calcium. The body draws calcium from bones if the calcium level in the blood drops from normal to low this causes weakening and breaking of bones.
Osteopenia is a condition of low calcium density in bones.
- Back pain and leg pain
- Cracking sound while exercising.
Osteopenia can lead to Osteoporosis; the condition of thinning of bones, and frequent fractures.
Calcium aids with the release of enzymes to help with digestion. Constant gas, constipation, bloating, and diarrhoea are results of poor digestion due to a lack of calcium in the blood. Poor gut health is another possible symptom.
When to visit a doctor regarding calcium deficiency?
If you have any of the mentioned symptoms you should visit your doctor. Although the symptoms are not just related to calcium deficiency only, it is very likely that they are.
What causes calcium deficiency?
There isn’t a single factor causing calcium deficiency but the primary cause is a low calcium diet. our body cannot create calcium so we fully rely on the calcium from an outside source; Diet. Apart from a low calcium diet, there are several other factors.
Low calcium diet
Diet is the only way to get calcium into your body’s system. A low calcium diet can cause calcium inadequacy, which in the long term can cause hypocalcemia.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium for a young adult is near 1000-1200 mg per day. Anything less than RDA can persuade hypocalcemia and anything more than RDA can lead to hypercalcemia.
Certain Food Intolerance, mostly lactose intolerance, restricts you from having milk, yoghurt, cheese (high calcium food sources), etc. causes calcium deficiency.
Vegan people are also calcium deficiency prone as they have very low calcium in their diet.
Malabsorption of nutrients
Vitamin D deficiency can also cause calcium deficiency as vitamin D is vital for calcium absorption in your body. Vitamin D allows the gut to absorb calcium from food.
Along with vitamin D, Vit K2, Vit C, Magnesium and phosphorus also support better absorption of calcium.
So, even if you are getting enough calcium in your diet, it might not be properly absorbed by your body due to a lack of other nutrients.
Excess calcium is excreted in the urine. kidney dysfunction can cause more than enough calcium loss to urine and results in not enough calcium from bones to blood.
It also affects the kidney’s ability to activate Vit D.
Not enough Vit D; Poor absorption of calcium.
Drugs affect the Absorption of calcium by the body. Drugs like Ritapin, antiseizure drugs, antibiotics reduce the absorption of calcium.
Low level of Parathyroid hormone (Hypoparathyroidism)
Parathyroid hormone (PTH) manages the balance of calcium and phosphorus, so a low level of PTH and lack of response to parathyroid hormone (pseudohypoparathyroidism) affect calcium levels in the blood.
Low magnesium (hypomagnesemia) reduces the activity of PTH and hence low calcium in the blood.
Sometimes pancreatitis is also a reason for hypocalcemia.
Hormonal imbalance (mostly women)
Estrogen (female reproductive hormone) cooperates in better absorption of calcium and also holds calcium in the body by promoting enzymes. postmenopausal are usually at higher risk of hypocalcemia because of low estrogen levels.
Other factors include age, genetics, unhealthy gut, and other underlying causes.
Improving these causes can help in reversing symptoms of calcium deficiency.
RDA for different ages:
RDA on the daily basis:
RDA upper limit:
Who is at higher risk?
- Vegans and lactose intolerants
- Postmenopausal women
- Women with Amenorrhea
- People after the age of 50.
Why are women more prone to Hypocalcemia?
Women are at higher risk of hypocalcemia than men because they have less bone mass, so their bone loss is more and happens at a faster rate than men. Also, change in estrogen levels with age is one of the other factors.
After examining the symptoms of calcium deficiency, doctors run some blood tests to reveal blood’s calcium level.
There isn’t any particular test to determine calcium deficiency but there are many blood tests to evaluate kidney functions and protein-bound calcium in your blood.
Test results of Magnesium, phosphate, PTH, and Vit D also reveal calcium deficiency, if exists.
- Increase your calcium intake in your diet.
Food like milk, yogurt, cheese, salmon, sardines with bones, kale, green leafy vegetables, collards, broccoli, bok choy, and sesame seeds are rich in calcium.
- Calcium supplements, only if recommended by the doctor.
- Vitamin D supplements are also recommended alongside calcium supplements for better absorption.
- Reduction in medication causing low absorption of calcium.
- Managing PTH.
- Treatment also depends on the reason for calcium deficiency.
There are many symptoms related to calcium deficiency like muscle twinges, pain in joints, and digestive disorders are some common ones.
A low calcium diet and other health conditions like thyroid, kidney dysfunctions, etc. are some causes of Hypocalcemia.
Adding more calcium to your diet can improve symptoms of hypocalcemia and help in reversing it. Calcium supplements are also recommended sometimes.