When you think about the importance of calcium, you probably think about your teeth and bones, and while the mineral is essential for dental and bone health, it also plays a role in body weight, heart health, muscle functioning, hormones, blood pressure, preventing prostate cancer and more. When our blood is too low in calcium, either due to poor diet or a deficiency related to an illness, the bones release calcium, which is why so many symptoms of a deficiency are related to brittle or soft bones, such as dental problems and osteoporosis.
The symptoms of a calcium deficiency can vary significantly, ranging from no symptoms at all, to mild or even severe and life-threatening. Even if your symptoms are non-existent, you may have a problem as potential dysfunctions can occur without your awareness.
Calcium is arguably the most important nutrient in the body, with over 99% of it stored in the bones and teeth, supporting skeletal function and structure. The remaining calcium is used for other necessary functions like muscle and blood vessel contraction, and to send a message through the nervous system.
While there are many different factors that can result in a calcium deficiency, three of the most common, other than malnutrition/poor diet include:
There isn’t much we can do about aging as it happens to all of us, and it’s one of the contributing factors to low calcium levels. While infants and children absorb around 60% of the calcium they consume, from adulthood on, that percentage decreases until eventually, it’s just 15 to 20%. It’s not easy to get the calcium you need through the foods you eat when your body absorbs only a fraction of it through your diet.
A Vitamin D Deficiency
One deficiency can lead to another as vitamin D is important as it serves to relay a message to the intestines to increase the absorption of calcium, and by as much as 80%. When you don’t get enough vitamin D, it could be affecting the level of calcium in your bloodstream too. The only way to know for sure is to take a test to determine what your vitamin D levels are. Ideally, they should be 60 to 80 nanograms per mL when taking the 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test, the most accurate available today.
When hormone changes occur, such as the natural decline in estrogen during menopause, it results in more rapid loss of bone density. Women who are postmenopausal have only about a tenth of the estrogen levels in those who are premenopausal. The lower level of estrogen you have, the more your bones are unable to absorb the calcium your body needs.
8 Signs You Have A Calcium Deficiency
If you notice these signs of a deficiency, you may want to speak with a healthcare professional. While one or two on their own may have nothing to do with calcium, if you notice more than a few, it’s probably time to do something about it. We’ll tell you how to fix it so you can avoid a more serious condition later.
1. Disappointing Dental Visits
Your dental checkups haven’t been going well, particularly when it comes to cavities. A diet with adequate calcium can prevent tooth decay, as a deficiency leeches the mineral from teeth and bones, which in turn, increases the risk of tooth decay and cavities.
2. Frequent Muscle Cramps
The occasional muscle cramp probably isn’t a reason for alarm, but if it happens frequently, there’s a good chance you have a calcium deficiency and it may be severe at this point. That’s because if you’ve been deficient for only a short time, you probably won’t have any obvious physical symptoms, but if it becomes chronic, it can cause muscle discomfort or contractions as calcium is what helps your muscles function like they should. Your calcium should never be so low that your muscles are cramping up. If you notice this sign it’s a red flag for a serious deficiency.
3. Broken Bones
If your bones break after a minor mishap, it could be a sign that your bones are weak due to a lack of calcium. Your bones reach peak bone mass by the time you’re 30, and after that, they continue to lose calcium, and density, because it can’t simply be replenished. You have to have enough of the mineral in your bloodstream to get your body to use its calcium stores rather than triggering the bones to release it. That’s why broken bones are so common in women who are postmenopausal.
4. Numbing Or Tingling
When deficient in calcium, muscles, and nerves become abnormally excitable. In the early stages of a calcium deficiency, numbness or tingling at the fingertips or around them can occur. If you notice involuntary muscle twitching, it may be more serious. There is a test for this in which a blood pressure cuff is placed on the upper arm and inflated to decrease blood flow to the hand. If that causes hand spasms, it’s known as the Trousseau sign, something that’s present in 94 percent of those who have a calcium deficiency and occurs in just 1% of people who a normal calcium level, according to a clinical review published in the June 2008 British Medical Journal.
5. You Have High Blood Pressure
While high blood pressure, or hypertension, can be caused by many different things, scientific research has discovered that if you get the recommended amount of calcium, you’ll lessen your risk of developing high blood pressure. Therefore, if you have high blood pressure, it may indicate a calcium deficiency, some studies have found that getting the recommended intake of calcium can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure.
6. You’re Overweight
Studies have found that when your calcium levels are high, it can help you maintain a normal weight or aid in weight loss.
7. Heart Problems
The heart contains an electrical conduction system, which sends signals to the heart muscles telling them to pump blood to the rest of the body. When there is a lack of calcium, it can result in abnormalities to this electrical conduction system, which can lead to abnormal heart rhythms. With an abnormal heart rhythm, you might faint, or simply feel like your heart is beating too fast, or skipping beats. A lack of calcium can also negatively impact the heart muscles that contract and pump blood, which can ultimately lead to heart failure.
8. You’re Not Sleeping
If you frequently toss and turn in bed at night, it could be the result of a calcium deficiency. Calcium also aids in the production of melatonin, that all-important sleep hormone that helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. It naturally increases at night to help you get a more peaceful night’s rest, but when there isn’t enough calcium in the body, it negatively impacts melatonin production.
If you think your body needs more calcium, there are multiple ways to fix it.
Make Changes To Your Diet
It’s important to consume plenty of calcium-rich foods, but if you don’t eat dairy, that doesn’t mean you need to start drinking milk. While dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, particularly cheddar, gruyere, parmesan, and mozzarella are quite rich in calcium, there are many other options just are just as good, some that are even better.
Some of the best high calcium, non-dairy foods include:
Kale. Kale has become one of the hottest superfoods around, for good reason. If you haven’t added it to your diet, now you have yet another reason to do so as one cup of raw kale provides 90 mg of calcium. That means a 3.5-cup kale salad will give you even more of the bone-building mineral than drinking an 8-ounce glass of milk.
Sardines. Sardines are widely-considered to be one of the healthiest kinds of fish you can consume. It not only contains lots of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, but just seven tiny fillets provide 321 mg of calcium.
Black-eyed peas. If you’re only familiar with the band and not the food, it’s time to change that. These black-eyed peas are the legume type and they are jam-packed with calcium: 185 mg in only a half cup. They also provide a good amount of folate and potassium.
Sesame seeds. Eat only an ounce of sesame seeds and you’ll be getting a whopping 280 mg of calcium – nearly as much as you’d get in a cup of milk.
Seaweed. Seaweed is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. It’s loaded with magnesium, vitamin B12, folate, and iodine, and also offers 168 milligrams of calcium in every 100-gram serving.
Almonds. While most nuts are healthy, almonds are considered the most nutritionally dense. Eating just an ounce (about 23 almonds) will give you 80 mg of calcium. They’re also well-known to aid in regulating blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol and promote weight loss.
Turnip greens. Cook up a cup of turnip greens as a side dish for dinner and you’ll be adding 197 mg of calcium to your meal, along with lots of powerful antioxidants.
What To Avoid In Your Diet
There are certain foods and beverage that can interfere with calcium absorption, those include:
High-sodium foods. The more salty foods you eat, the more calcium you’re losing as it causes calcium to be excreted through the kidneys. Aim to eat less than 2,300 mg daily. Researched published in December of 2016 in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men who frequently ate salty foods were more prone to osteoporosis, a condition that causes bone-thinning. Another study in the January 2017 issue of the journal Osteoporosis International demonstrated a similar link in postmenopausal women.
Soda- diet, regular, caffeinated and caffeine-free. If you have a soda habit, it’s probably impacting your bone health. Drinking just one or more soda a day has been associated with reduced bone density and a higher risk of bone fractures. A study published in the September 2014 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who were postmenopausal and consumed soda had a greater risk of hip fractures, regardless of the type they drink. The more soda they drank, the higher the risk.
Caffeine. While soda, caffeinated or not can be a factor in a deficiency of calcium, studies have found that caffeinated beverages and foods, in general, can also contribute to decreased bone density. The substances leech calcium from the bones, about 6 milligrams of calcium for every 100 milligrams of caffeine ingested. The negative effects are even greater when caffeine is combined with a sugary food, researchers say, like chocolate, or drinking coffee with a donut.
If you’re getting enough calcium from nutritious foods you eat, then you won’t need to take a supplement. It’s always best to get the recommended daily amount of calcium your body needs from foods first and supplement only if absolutely necessary to make up for a serious shortfall. When you’re consuming real foods with calcium, they contain all the essential minerals, vitamins, enzymes and other nutrients your body needs to ensure that each and every vital nutrient is properly absorbed and digested.