Calcium is an essential mineral that contributes to several bodily functions including healthy bones. A lack of calcium or Hypocalcemia can create problems in your skeletal system, and put you at risk of various conditions like osteoporosis or brittle and fragile bones. What’s surprising is how people might not even know they might be facing problems of calcium deficiency until it is detected in a blood test or when several symptoms suggest one. This article explains the symptoms and signs of calcium deficiency and why your body may be screaming for calcium.
What is Calcium?
Calcium is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of our bones, teeth, and muscles. It contributes to various physiological processes in your body, such as blood clotting, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction. Calcium controls the contraction and relaxation of blood vessels by maintaining tone and flexibility. Approximately 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones and teeth, where it provides structural support and strength. The remaining 1% is found in the bloodstream, where it plays a critical role in various physiological processes.
Why Is Calcium Important?
Adequate calcium intake is important throughout life, but it is particularly crucial during periods of rapid growth, such as childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy. Besides growth and development, calcium contributes to transmission of nerve impulses to release neurotransmitters at the synapses between nerve cells, gene expression, cell growth and cell death. Calcium also contributes to enzyme activation, hormone secretion, blood pressure regulation and heart function by regulating heart rhythm and the electrical impulses that control the heart’s pumping action. Insufficient calcium intake can lead to a deficiency, resulting in health issues such as weakened bones (osteoporosis), tooth decay, muscle cramps, and other related problems. These are the major signs of calcium deficiency.
Signs Of Calcium Deficiency
Increased blood pressure
Calcium is also involved in the regulation of hormones that control blood pressure, such as renin and angiotensin II together known as the renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system (RAAS). In low levels of calcium, parathyroid hormones and renin release activates the renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system (RAAS). This leads to vasoconstriction or stiffening of blood vessels and an increase in renal water reabsorption, increasing blood pressure.
Frequent Muscle Cramps
Your sleep is interrupted by an aching, creeping pain in your hamstring or calf. Sounds recognizable? Since calcium is more important for preventing muscle cramps than potassium, reach for a glass of milk rather than a banana.
Calcium plays a crucial role in muscle function, particularly in muscle contraction. When a muscle receives a signal from the nervous system to contract, calcium is released from storage sites within the muscle cell and binds to a protein called troponin, which helps initiate the process of muscle contraction. A lack of calcium unavailable to bind to troponin, leads to muscle cramps. This is because the muscle is not able to fully relax, and it can remain in a state of contraction, causing the cramp.
Osteoporosis Risk/Brittle Bones
Low bone density and an increased risk of osteoporosis are clear indicators of a calcium deficiency. Regular intake of calcium is crucial for maintaining bone mass and strength. Bones are made up of a complex matrix of minerals, primarily calcium and phosphorus, as well as collagen and other proteins. Calcium is particularly important for the strength and structure of bones, as it helps to form the mineral crystals that give bones their rigidity and hardness.
Your body ceases to form bone density sometime between the ages of 20-30. Thereafter, it is calcium that maintains your bone density and prevents brittleness of bones. If you find even minor hard bumps leading to fractures, or a crack in bone, it could well be a sign of low calcium.
Lack of Vitamin D
Vitamin D also called the sunshine vitamin helps your body to absorb calcium. Without sufficient vitamin D, your body absorbs no more than 10% to 15% of dietary calcium. Sufficient vitamin D increases your body’s absorption of intestinal calcium by 30% to 40%. Data has revealed 1 out of every 3 Indians have a vitamin D deficiency, which means every Indian should get their vitamin D levels checked every year and consider a supplement in a deficiency. While being outdoors in the midday sun for just 15 minutes can help you get your RDA of vitamin D, other nutritional sources are fatty fish, egg yolk, cow’s milk, soya milk, mushrooms, cheese, oranges, cod liver oil, breakfast cereals and bread.
Calcium plays an essential role in the development and maintenance of strong teeth. Teeth are primarily made up of a mineral called hydroxyapatite, which contains calcium and phosphate. Calcium helps to provide the structural integrity of the tooth, while phosphate helps to regulate the acid balance in the mouth.
Together, calcium and phosphorus keep our teeth strong. One symptom of calcium insufficiency is tooth decay because when we do not consume enough calcium-rich meals, our bodies start to take calcium from our bones and teeth.
Fatigue, Weakness and Joint Pain
Calcium is essential for joint health, and a deficiency may contribute to joint pain and discomfort. Insufficient calcium can lead to fatigue and weakness as the muscles struggle to function optimally without an adequate supply of this essential mineral.
Calcium is involved in the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Moreover, studies have found how low levels of calcium resulted in difficulty falling asleep, disturbed sleep and irregular sleep rhythms.
Numbness and Tingling
Calcium is essential for nerve transmission. A deficiency may lead to sensations of numbness and tingling, particularly in the extremities.
Low Calcium Blues
If you have been getting your daily dose of the blues, think about the relationship between food and mood because calcium is linked to depression. Calcium is important for the normal functioning of nerve cells, including the communication between nerve cells and the regulation of neuronal excitability. Abnormalities in these processes have been linked to the development of depression.
Brittle Nails, Possibly Itchy Skin
Your skin and nails serve as reliable health markers but brittle nails, and itchy cracked skin could well be signs of calcium deficiency. Calcium insufficiency has been related to both psoriasis and eczema. It is crucial to visit your doctor for a checkup to consider calcium supplements .
Calcium is crucial for maintaining a regular heartbeat. A deficiency may lead to irregular heart rhythms.
Adequate calcium levels are associated with a reduced risk of menstrual irregularities and premenstrual symptoms.
Reasons For Calcium Deficiency
- Excessive red meat consumption
- Not consuming any dairy
- Poor calcium intake for long periods
- Medications that decrease calcium
- Hormonal changes mostly in women
- Vitamin D deficiency
Dietary Recommendations of Calcium
According to the National Institute of Health US, the dietary recommendations of Calcium are
- Women, 71 years plus 1,200 mg
- Women, 51-70 years 1,200 mg
- Women, 31-50 years 1,000 mg
- Women, 19-30 years 1,000 mg/1200 mg
- Men, 71 years plus 1,200 mg
- Men, 51-70 years 1,000 mg
- Men, 31-50 years 1,000 mg
- Men, 19-30 years 1,000 mg/1200 mg
Sources of Calcium
To ensure your body receives an ample supply of calcium, incorporate these excellent dietary sources into your daily meals:
- Dairy Products: Milk, cheese, and yogurt are rich sources of calcium and are easily incorporated into various dishes.
- Leafy Greens: Kale, broccoli, collard greens, okra, and drumsticks, are excellent plant-based sources of calcium.
- Sardines and Salmon: These fatty fish varieties provide a good dose of calcium along with essential omega-3 fatty acids.
- Tofu and Soy Products: Tofu and fortified soy products are suitable options for those following a plant-based diet.
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds and chia seeds are nutrient-dense snacks that contribute to your daily calcium intake.
- Fortified Foods: Look for fortified foods such as fortified cereals and plant-based milk alternatives to boost your calcium levels. Cereals like Ragi are excellent for calcium.
- Lentils: Various lentils like moong beans, moong dal, urad dal, chana dal (Bengal gram), and cow peas are all good sources of calcium
Being attentive to the signs of calcium deficiency in your body is crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being. From brittle nails to joint pain, these indicators serve as valuable cues to ensure you’re meeting your body’s calcium needs. The best way to get calcium is to ensure a good dose of vitamin D by being more outdoors in Bangalore, incorporating calcium-rich foods into your diet, and avoiding unhealthy processed food that might deplete your calcium.