As small children, we’re taught the importance of drinking milk. The reason being – calcium is very important for our bodies. We’re told time and time again need calcium to give us strong bones and help us grow tall. The problem is, despite being taught this from a young age, as we head into adolescence and then adulthood, this information tends to slip to the back of our minds. This means that more and more people become calcium deficient.
Calcium deficiency is a serious issue. It can not only result in nasty symptoms but also lead to chronic diseases. Unfortunately many people don’t even begin to make the connection between their symptoms and a lack of dietary calcium. Could you be suffering from calcium deficiency? Here are seven signs you should look out for.
What Is Calcium And Why Do We Need It?
Calcium is an essential mineral our body cannot produce. Therefore we must obtain from dietary sources. Calcium helps to stabilize our blood pressure as well as building strong bones and teeth.
Most of our calcium stores are in our bones. As we age our bone density decreases. Therefore, as you get older, you need to take in even more calcium to stay healthy.
For children, both boys and girls are recommended the same amount of calcium. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended daily values for children and teens are as follows:
- Infants, 0-6 months – 200 mg
- Infants, 7-12 months – 260 mg
- Children, 1-3 years – 700 mg
- Children, 4-8 years – 1,000 mg
- Children, 9-12 years – 1,300 mg
- Teenagers, 13-18 years – 1,300 mg
Where adults are concerned, the recommended daily values for men and women differ slightly. It is important due to the change in hormones that women up their daily intake of calcium when approaching and during menopause.
This is because the reduced amount of the hormone estrogen in menopause causes womens bones to thin at a quicker rate. This means they are more susceptible to conditions linked with calcium deficiency.
According to the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines, calcium requirements for adults are:
- Men, 19-30 years – 1,000 mg
- Women, 19-30 years – 1,000 mg
- Men, 31-50 years – 1,000 mg
- Women, 31-50 years – 1,000 mg
- Men, 51-70 years – 1,000 mg
- Women, 51-70 years – 1,200
- Men, 71 years and up – 1,200
- Women, 71 years and up – 1,200 mg
Calcium needs to be consumed either from the foods we eat or via the use of supplements. The problem is, most Americans are not meeting these levels of calcium intake.
A recent report showed that only 10% of adult females met their recommended intake of calcium from diet alone. With the only age group consistently meeting their recommended calcium intake that of infants and toddlers.
Not getting the right amount of calcium can lead to a number of serious issues including osteoporosis, osteopenia and hypocalcemia, more commonly known as calcium deficiency disease.
What Is Calcium Deficiency Disease (Hypocalcemia)?
Calcium deficiency disease or hypocalcemia is low levels of calcium in the blood. Of course, missing your daily dose of calcium won’t lead to calcium deficiency overnight, but a consistent lack of calcium can lead to development of some severe symptoms.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that a number of factors can also lead to poor absorption of calcium. Even if you eat a diet rich with calcium foods or use supplements, you could still become deficient.
A number of conditions that can prevent or hinder calcium absorption include:
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Magnesium deficiency
- High sodium intake
- High phosphorus intake (found in cola soft drinks and food additives)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Abnormal parathyroid function (due to neck/thyroid surgery or autoimmune disease)
What Are The Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency?
Symptoms of calcium deficiency can differ greatly from non existent or mild, to severe and potentially life-threatening depending on the severity of the deficiency.
There are several symptoms of short term calcium deficiency, which if spotted early enough can prevent development of more serious conditions. The seven most common (and particularly mild) symptoms of calcium deficiency you should watch out for include:
Weak and Brittle Nails
Calcium deficiency can affect all parts of the body and often leads to weak nails plus slower hair growth.
Easy Fracturing of Bones
Being deficient in calcium can lead to osteoporosis and osteopenia. Both of these conditions cause less dense bones which can result in breaks and fractures. Something as simple as turning your ankle on the sidewalk, which would normally only cause mild muscular pain, can lead to a major bone fracture.
Excessive PMS and Depression
Millions of women suffer from premenstrual syndrome. Symptoms including irritability, fatigue, mild personality changes and even depression are experienced by women each month. This is due to the rise and fall of hormones in our bodies.
However, hypocalcemia also produces mood and body symptoms incredibly similar to those of PMS. Low levels of calcium triggers hyperparathyroidism, a condition where the parathyroid gland attempts to compensate for the deficiency of blood calcium by overproducing parathyroid hormone.
So if you feel you are experience extreme PMS for abnormally long periods of time, or periods of depression, it could actually be linked to calcium deficiency.
Muscle and Nerve Symptoms
Calcium plays an important role both in neurotransmitter release and muscle contractions. Therefore, low levels of calcium can bring about a number of neurological symptoms such as seizures in people who are otherwise healthy.
A very common early symptom is tingling or numbness in the face and can be a major warning sign. If you experience any of these neurological symptoms it is important to see a doctor immediately.
Other symptoms can be seen in long term cases of calcium deficiency, some of which can be life threatening. These can include:
- Heart failure
- Chest pains
- Difficulty swallowing
- Voice changes due to spasm of the larynx
- Dry skin
- Chronic itching
- Tooth decay
- Muscle weakness
Diagnosis and Treatment of Calcium Deficiency
If you think you may be suffering from calcium deficiency, don’t worry, all is not lost. Both diagnosis and treatment of calcium deficiency are quite straightforward.
If you have been experiencing any symptoms of calcium deficiency, speak to your doctor about it. They will review your medical history and do a simple blood test to confirm your blood calcium levels.
If you are low on calcium, adding more to your diet is usually the recommended treatment. It is incredibly important not to self medicate with calcium supplements, as too much calcium can be just as dangerous as too little.
Therefore, see your doctor and if treatment is necessary they will prescribe the right level of calcium supplements to you and advise you on the amount of dietary calcium you need to aim for.