Calcium deficiency is a global health problem. Many people from many different countries (especially in developing countries, but also developed) are simply not getting enough calcium from their diets.
What is Calcium?
Calcium is arguably the most important nutrient in your body. It’s also the most plentiful. More than 99% of your calcium is stored in your bones and your teeth, which supports skeletal function and structure. The rest of the calcium in your body is used for other critical functions such as muscle contraction, blood vessel contraction and expansion and sending messages through the nervous system.
When you don’t get enough calcium, you increase your risk of developing diseases such as osteoporosis and hypocalcemia.
10 Signs of Calcium Deficiency
Signs of calcium deficiency (also known as hypocalcemia) range from minor symptoms such as:
- Tingling fingers
- Muscle cramps
- Poor appetite
- Weak or brittle fingernails
To more severe calcium deficiency symptoms such as:
- Mental confusion
- Skeletal malformations
- And in infants, delayed development
These are the common minor and severe low calcium symptoms that can occur. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms – be safe and schedule an appointment to see your health specialist.
What causes calcium deficiency?
There are many factors that can contribute to calcium deficiency. The following are three ways in which your calcium levels may be affected:
- The natural aging process: Infants and children absorb as much as 60% of the calcium they consume. But once in adulthood and thereafter, your absorption slowly decreases to about 15-20%. If you’re only absorbing 15-20% of the calcium you are consuming, it’s difficult to be getting enough through diet alone.
- Low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D functions as an important hormone by sending a message to your intestines to increase the absorption of calcium by as much as 80%. So if your vitamin D levels are low, this could be affecting your calcium levels, too. The most accurate vitamin D test is the 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test. Optimal blood levels of 25OHD are 60-80 nanograms per mL.
- Hormonal changes: A decline in hormone estrogen during menopause causes women to lose bone density more rapidly. Postmenopausal women have about one-tenth the amount of estrogen levels present in premenopausal women. The result in lower levels of estrogen means the bones aren’t able to absorb adequate amounts of calcium.
Top Food Sources of Calcium
There are plenty of food sources that are high in calcium and you can incorporate these easily into your daily diet.
The most common and main source (for Americans) of calcium is through dairy products:
For the complete list of high calcium foods, click here.
But depending on your dietary choices, there are plenty of other options.
Whether you’re lactose intolerant or simply not a fan of dairy: Non Dairy Sources of Calcium
Or if you’re a plant-based eater: Vegan (Plant-Based) Sources of Calcium
No matter what diet you follow, there are many calcium food choices for you.
Do you need calcium supplements?
How much calcium you need depends on your age. Other factors such as gender, pregnancy and illnesses are also important.
The following table is the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDA) of calcium developed by the Food and Nutrition Board. These are the amounts of calcium required for bone health and to maintain adequate rates of calcium retention in healthy people.
The reality is, most people are not getting enough calcium through their diets.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) determines whether Americans are getting adequate amounts of important nutrients. This survey revealed that most Americans are not doing a good job of getting adequate calcium.
Especially in women that are 51 years and older. From the table above you can see that women in this age range are supposed to be getting 1200 mg of calcium per day, but in actuality, from their diet, they are only getting 674 mg of calcium per day. Not nearly enough.
Couple that with the fact that as we age, absorption of calcium decreases and the shift in hormonal changes due to menopause – women are much more susceptible to calcium deficiency.
The good news is, a number of studies have been done that show calcium supplementation can help make up for this shortfall.
One in particular, is a landmark study showing that a rare, organic calcium supplement can increase bone density…even in your 80’s. The reason it works so well? The calcium is plant-based and contains not only calcium, but magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K2 and many other trace minerals such as vanadium, zinc, boron, strontium and manganese.
These additional nutrients are also crucial when it comes to bone health. And they also play important roles when it comes to calcium absorption.
Are there any considerations?
Taking only calcium in large amounts will cause a calcium overload in the body, resulting in an imbalance in the working relationship between calcium and the other nutrients required for its healthful use. This makes sense. When you eat an apple, you are not consuming one isolated nutrient, you are consuming multiple that are in their proper proportions, working together. The way nature intended.
The same goes for calcium. When it comes to strong and healthy bones, there are other critical nutrients that need to be taken with calcium for optimal health benefits.
- Vitamin D: Calcium and vitamin D work together. When you take vitamin D, you increase your body’s ability to effectively absorb calcium. Lara Pizzorno, author of “Your Bones” says that, “Less widely known is that vitamin D also boosts the expression of the vitamin K- dependent proteins. So when you take supplemental vitamin D, you are increasing the amount of calcium available in your body and therefore your need for vitamin K…” In other words, vitamin D increases the amount of calcium you absorb, but in turn also increases your need for vitamin K.
- Vitamin K2: Don’t mix this up with vitamin K1. Vitamin K2 has nothing to do with blood clotting factors. And it is very difficult to get without supplementation. It is not in leafy greens like K1 and is found only in tiny amounts in eggs and cheeses. Its main role is to regulate calcium deposition. Meaning, vitamin K2 cleans calcium deposits from your arteries and deposits it in your bones. Talk about important.
- Magnesium: It’s reported that as many of 80% of Americans are magnesium deficient! Deficiency of this mineral affects bone growth, bone fragility, and alters calcium metabolism and the hormones that regulate calcium.
- Age: After peak bone mass, which is around age 40, you begin to lose 1% of your total bone mineral density each year. Your absorption of vitamins and minerals also decline as you age. That is why recommendations for dietary intake of calcium are higher if you are age 51 and over.
- Pregnancy: Calcium recommendations for pregnant women are no different than the recommendations for women who are not pregnant. (Intestinal calcium absorption increases during pregnancy, making recommendations the same)
Research shows that several groups consume less than 80% of the RDA of calcium per day. Calcium deficiency is real. And it is common in the US today.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body and has several important functions. They include the secretion of hormones and enzymes, muscle contraction and supports the structure of your bones and teeth.
Calcium is and always will be crucial for bone health. But as you now know, additional vitamins and minerals work together with calcium to keep your bones strong.