When you think of calcium, you might think of bones and teeth where most of the calcium in the human body is stored. In addition to helping with the formation of new bone, calcium is also essential for a number of other bodily functions including:
- Blood clotting
- Nerve signal transmission
- Blood vessel function
- Muscle contraction
- Hormone release
What is hypocalcemia?
Hypocalcemia is the name given to calcium deficiency disease, a condition that occurs when levels of calcium in the blood become low. This decrease in calcium can lead to problems with teeth, cataracts, brain alterations and osteoporosis.
Who is at risk of calcium deficiency
Global estimates published in 2015, state that 2.5 billion people are at risk of calcium deficiency.
A study published in the American College of Nutrition states that the following groups of people are most at risk of developing a calcium deficiency.
- Older adults
- People who are overweight
In addition, postmenopausal women, people with digestive conditions, vegans, and vegetarians may also be at risk.
Signs that you may be calcium deficient
Here are some symptoms that may occur as hypocalcemia advances:
Muscle cramps, aches, and spasms
Some of the earliest signs of low calcium may include pain in the thighs and arms, particularly the underarms when walking. A more severe deficiency may cause numbness and tingling in hands, feet, legs, and around the mouth.
Insomnia, lethargy and brain fog
People with a calcium deficiency may have a difficult time sleeping, feel sluggish, and have a lack of energy that can’t be shaken. In addition, fatigue associated with low levels of calcium may also cause dizziness, lightheadedness, brain fog, and difficulty focusing as well as confusion and forgetfulness.
Research has found a connection between calcium deficiency and mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disease. Irritability and anxiety have also been noted as a possible side effect of calcium deficiency.
Skin and nail conditions
If you have been calcium deficient for some time, your skin may become dry, itchy or eczema or psoriasis may develop. You can also have dry and brittle nails. Alopecia, a condition that causes hair to fall out in round patches has also been connected to calcium deficiency.
To get calcium where it needs to be, the body will pull it from the teeth resulting in dental issues such as irritated gums, weak roots, brittle teeth, and tooth decay. Young children with calcium deficiency may experience problems with tooth development.
Low calcium levels have been linked to premenstrual syndrome. Premenstrual syndrome has a number of symptoms including mood swings, tender breasts, bloating, fatigue, irritability, depression and food cravings. Research shows that calcium supplements may effectively reduce fluid retention related to PMS.
Osteopenia means low bone mineral density, and although it is not a disease, it may lead to osteoporosis with time. Osteoporosis impacts women more than men and can lead to an elevated risk of bone fractures from normal daily activities. It is estimated that osteoporosis results in 8.9 million bone fractures worldwide yearly. This condition often leads to hunched back in older adults.
How to avoid calcium deficiency
Consuming a plant-based diet rich in organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can help reduce your risk of calcium deficiency. If you consume dairy, eat only organic, and pasture raised products. Keep active to avoid becoming overweight or obese and participate in activities that reduce stress.
Great sources of calcium-rich foods include
- Freshly caught salmon
- Chia seeds
- Milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Sesame seeds
- Canned sardines with bones
- Bok Choy
- Mustard greens
If you consume a diet high in calcium-rich food and still have symptoms of deficiency, you may need to take a supplement. Supplements come in a variety of forms. Speak with a healthcare professional about which is best for you and how much to take.