Calcium Deficiency 101 – How Much Calcium Do You Need

We have more calcium in body than any other mineral.

There is a reason why calcium is considered the most important mineral and nutrient in our body.

More than 99% of calcium is stored in our bones and teeth, meaning that consuming calcium is critical for keeping our bones healthy.

As we age, we need more and more calcium to keep our bones and teeth healthy.

The problem is more than 2/3 of the population in America suffers from calcium deficiency.

According to a recent study, 68% of Americans are not consuming enough calcium [1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2838624/.

What is calcium deficiency?

Calcium Deficiency 101

The calcium deficiency disease, medically known as hypocalcemia, is a global health problem.

People all around the world are prone to problems with calcium.

If you are not getting enough calcium to your body, you risk two serious disease:

  • Osteopenia – bone loss or bone thinning beyond the normal range. The condition is a precursor to osteoporosis, and has a T-score of -1 to -2.49
  • Osteoporosis – excessive bone density loss resulting in a T-score of -2.5 or lower, as your bones become weak and brittle

When your body does not get enough calcium from diet to function smoothly, it will borrow calcium from your bones to make up for the shortfall.

If this continues for long period of time, your bone mineral density depletes to the point of osteopenia.

How much calcium do you need?

The following numbers are according to US government’s dietary guidelines [2]https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-7/
:

  • Men between 19 and 30 years – 1,000 mg
  • Men between 31 and 50 years – 1,000 mg
  • Men between 51 and 70 years – 1,000 mg
  • Men older than 71 years – 1,200 mg
  • Women between 19 and 30 years – 1,000 mg
  • Women between 31 and 50 years – 1,000 mg
  • Women between 51 and 70 years – 1,000 mg
  • Women older than 71 years – 1,200 mg

As you can notice, men and women need same amount of calcium in their adult years, but women need to increase their calcium consumption earlier in life.

As women approach their menopause phase, it is critical to increase their calcium consumption.

During this period, and in menopause, women are at higher risk of osteoporosis due to calcium deficiency.

As women produce less estrogen, their bones thin faster.

Causes of Calcium Deficiency

The good news is that calcium deficiency does not happen overnight [3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22893720 .

As we will see later, the symptoms are rather non-existent in early stages.

Sometimes, it takes years for symptoms of calcium deficiency to manifest as physical symptoms.

However, you should keep these causes in mind, just so that you be sure you are getting enough calcium.

  • Certain prescription medications can decrease calcium absorption by interfering with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Some of the well-known medications to do this include diuretics, anticonvulsants, lipid-lowering statins, and corticosteroids
  • People with lactose intolerance or dairy allergy are missing out on the best sources of calcium like milk and dairy products. They are at higher risk of developing calcium related problems
  • Gluten sensitivities and celiac disease can lead to inflammation and malabsorption of nutrients, resulting in less calcium and bone loss
  • Genetic factors like Vitamin D-resistant syndromes can cause bone loss and deficiency in calcium
  • Calcium malabsorption can be affected also by the amount of vitamin D, K2 levels, and magnesium trace mineral status in your body
  • The amount of calcium consumed at a time can also affect absorption, as you the efficiency decreases as the amount of calcium you consume. For example, consuming more than 500mg of calcium at a time in a single meal will not result in good absorption of the mineral
  • As we age, we absorb less calcium. Children and infants absorb as much as 60% of the calcium they consume. When we reach adulthood, we absorb between 15 and 20% of the calcium we consume
  • Hormonal changes, especially decline in estrogen causes loss of bone density more rapidly
  • Deficiency in vitamin D can also cause calcium deficiency, as these two work really well together. The more vitamin D you absorb, the better is your body’s ability to absorb calcium [4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2912737/
  • Deficiency in magnesium affects bone growth, bone fragility, and causes other bone-related problems that alter calcium metabolism and hormones regulating calcium [5]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20172919

What are the symptoms?

In the early stages of calcium deficiency, there are rarely any symptoms.

However, as the condition progresses, you will notice symptoms.

With that in mind, symptoms of minor deficiency are the following:

  • Numbness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Lethargy
  • Tingling fingers
  • Fainting
  • Poor appetite
  • Difficulty swallowing

If you continue to ignore the deficiency in calcium, you are facing serious health problems and signs of calcium deficiency.

Here are more severe symptoms of hypocalcemia:

  • Mental confusion
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Tooth decay
  • Bone fractures
  • Growth delays in children
  • Memory loss
  • Muscle spasms
  • Osteopenia or osteoporosis
  • Heart problems involving blood pressure
  • Heart problems involving heart rhythms
  • Numbness and tingling in hands, feet, and face
  • Weak and brittle nails
  • Muscle cramps
  • Hallucinations

Deficiency in calcium affects all parts of your body as calcium plays a vital role in both neurotransmitter release and muscle contractions.

See your doctor as soon as possible if you start experiencing numbness, tingling, hallucinations, seizures, memory loss, or other neurological symptoms.

According to the US Surgeon General, more than 50% aged 50 or more will be at risk for osteoporotic fractures by 2020 due to low calcium consumption [6]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK45515/.

That means half of the 50% population in the US is at risk of breaking a bone.

What can you do?

The good news is you can easily treat calcium deficiency [7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4337919/.

The only thing you need to do is up your calcium rich foods consumption.

Adding more calcium to your diet is the best and safest way to battle deficiency in calcium.

In addition to foods high in calcium, you can also opt for some calcium supplements.

Fair warning: do not take more than the recommended dose without an approval of your doctor, as it might cause problems like kidney stones.

Some calcium supplements include:

  • Calcium carbonate, least expensive and has most elemental calcium
  • Calcium phosphate, easily absorbed, and do not cause constipation
  • Calcium citrate, the most easily absorbed

You can consume calcium supplements in liquid, chewable, or tablet form.

It is all up to you.

But as mentioned previously, consuming foods rich in calcium is even better.

That being said, here are 10 best sources of calcium:

  • Sardines
  • Cow’s milk
  • Yogurt
  • Hard cheeses
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Soybeans (and soy products like tofu)
  • Fortified cereals
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Enriched breads and enriched grains
  • Fortified soymilk
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