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Calcium: Symptoms And Causes Of Calcium Deficiency

Calcium has many important tasks in the body, for example for the bones, teeth, muscles, nerves, and blood clotting. A calcium deficiency should therefore be avoided, but of course also a calcium excess. We explain which symptoms can indicate a calcium deficiency, what causes a calcium deficiency and how you can remedy a calcium deficiency.

Calcium – The functions of the bone mineral

Calcium is quantitatively the most important mineral in the human body. In an adult, the mineral accounts for one to two percent of body weight or about 1 kilogram. Most of it – 99 percent – is in the bones and teeth.

Only 1 percent of the calcium is distributed to the blood and organ cells and the extracellular space (tissue space between the cells).

Calcium has many extremely vital tasks in the body:

  • The most well-known function of calcium in the human organism is its importance for the bones and teeth, which consist largely of calcium compounds.
  • Calcium is also necessary for the proper functioning of muscles and nerves. Too much or too little calcium in the body can lead to muscle cramps and neurological malfunctions (including psychoses and hallucinations).
  • Calcium is essential for regulating the acid-base balance. For example, when the pH of the blood falls below a certain level, calcium is released from the bones to rebalance the blood pH and thus prevent the blood from becoming acidic. This process is vital because the pH value of the blood influences, among other things, the respiratory rate and the transport of oxygen by the blood cells.
  • Calcium is involved in numerous enzymatic reactions as a cofactor.
  • Calcium is also involved in blood clotting since one of the blood clotting factors (prothrombin) can only be converted into its active form (thrombin) in the presence of calcium, so without calcium, there would be problems in stopping the bleeding.

Calcium deficiency – the symptoms

One might think that the tasks of calcium mentioned already give indications of how a possible calcium deficiency could possibly manifest itself, namely in bone and tooth problems (e.g. increased bone fragility), muscle cramps, shortness of breath, acidic blood, and bleeding to death from the smallest of wounds.

Increased bone fragility occurs with osteoporosis, but usually only in old age – and osteoporosis is not a typical calcium deficiency disease. Acidic blood is almost never seen, and breathing problems and bleeding from calcium deficiency are more than rare.

At best, muscle or calf cramps occasionally occur with a calcium deficiency.

So maybe there isn’t a calcium deficiency at all? Or is it as rare as the lack of deficiency symptoms suggests?

Yes, there is a calcium deficiency. Yes, there are even two different calcium deficiencies. An acute calcium deficiency, which is immediately noticeable in massive symptoms and requires urgent treatment, and a chronic calcium deficiency, which only shows symptoms in the long term, include the following:

  • Dry skin to eczema
  • Tingling on the skin as if an ant had gotten lost in it
  • heart problems and poor circulation
  • Brittle fingernails and hair loss
  • Increased susceptibility to caries
  • Cataract
  • incontinence and diarrhea
  • sleep disorders
  • Obesity and problems losing excess weight

(However, almost all of these symptoms can also indicate other problems or other deficiency symptoms (e.g. magnesium, silicon, vitamin A, zinc, biotin, and many more.). Usually, there is not only a deficiency of a single vital substance but of several at the same time. Therefore, you should always clarify symptoms comprehensively and not just blame 1 cause for them.)

Calcium deficiency – the causes

Calcium deficiency can now have very different causes:

  • Calcium deficiency because the parathyroid glands stop working

An acute calcium deficiency occurs particularly frequently when the parathyroid glands suddenly no longer function at all or only to a limited extent.

The parathyroid glands produce a hormone called parathyroid hormone. It regulates blood calcium levels. If this drops, the parathyroid hormone initiates three actions:

  • Calcium is released from the bones and carried into the blood.
  • Calcium is increasingly absorbed from incoming food in the intestine.
  • The excretion of calcium in the urine is reduced.

The calcium level is then nicely balanced again. If at some point enough calcium arrives in the body again with the food, the calcium borrowed from the bones can be transported back there – and everything is fine.

This regulatory mechanism also explains why hardly anyone suffers from the calcium deficiency symptoms suspected above (shortness of breath, bleeding to death, cramps, spontaneous fractures), for example as a result of a low-calcium diet or a slight to moderate vitamin D deficiency.

The calcium reserves in the bones are so large that the blood can use calcium there for many years in order to avoid acute and life-threatening calcium deficiency symptoms. Decades can pass before the bones are depleted (osteoporosis/bone atrophy).

It is important here, however, that osteoporosis does not necessarily occur solely as a result of a calcium deficiency. Many factors play a major role in the development of osteoporosis so it doesn’t make much sense to take large amounts of calcium supplements if you ignore the other aspects.

Causes of dysfunctional parathyroid glands

The thyroid gland is now often surgically removed. Next to the thyroid, however, are the parathyroid glands. And if the surgeon does not yet have that much experience, it is possible (after all, in about 14 percent of thyroid gland operations) that he removes the parathyroid glands at the same time as the thyroid gland, or at least damages them to such an extent that they can only be used with are busy regenerating, but can no longer (or not sufficiently) produce parathyroid hormone.

An acute calcium deficiency is a result because the parathyroid hormone is missing, which would repeatedly replenish the blood calcium level with bone calcium in good time if nothing containing calcium is eaten or drunk.

Very acute symptoms are now also appearing, namely muscle cramps and paralysis as well as long-term hair loss, dementia-like symptoms, dry skin, cataracts, and many other of the symptoms listed above.

There are other, but less common, causes of parathyroid calcium deficiency. In this way, the parathyroid glands can also stop working if, for example, the neck area had to be irradiated and the parathyroid glands are now struggling with radiation damage.

Calcium deficiency in gastrointestinal complaints

A sick stomach – especially when taking acid blockers – can lead to a lack of stomach acid. Gastric acid, however, is very important for calcium absorption.

For chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), lactose intolerance, some types of gastritis, celiac disease, and much more. Calcium deficiency can also occur – simply because the diseased intestine cannot absorb enough calcium in these cases.

Calcium deficiency due to increased calcium excretion

Other diseases can in turn ensure that too much calcium is excreted in the urine.

This is e.g. This is the case, for example, with hormone disorders (menopause) or if there is a kidney problem. An overactive thyroid gland can also lead to the body excreting too much calcium instead of retaining it in the kidneys in time before the urine is excreted.

However, the kidneys are also involved in another form of calcium deficiency:

Calcium deficiency due to vitamin D deficiency

The inactive vitamin D is activated in the kidneys so that it can help with the absorption of calcium from the intestine. However, if the kidneys are ill (renal insufficiency), then sufficient amounts of the active vitamin D are missing – and the calcium is excreted with the stool. The result is acute calcium deficiency.

If the person suffers from a chronic vitamin D deficiency as a result of insufficient exposure to the sun, this can lead to a gradual calcium deficiency.

Calcium deficiency due to magnesium deficiency

If there is a significant magnesium deficiency, the parathyroid hormone secretion from the parathyroid glands decreases. However, if there is too little parathyroid hormone, the calcium balance will be out of balance, as you already know above. Magnesium is also essential for the activation of vitamin D so a magnesium deficiency can lead to a reduced effect of vitamin D and, in this way, also cause a calcium deficiency.

Calcium deficiency in old age

From the age of forty, calcium absorption in the intestine decreases by an average of 0.2 percent per year. At the same time, the risk of bone density decreasing increases with age. Seniors should therefore make sure to increase their calcium intake to be on the safe side, in order to prevent health problems. However, the following also applies here:

Calcium alone is useless! Vitamin D, vitamin K2, magnesium, AND exercise is also required so that the body can do anything with the incoming calcium.

Calcium deficiency in vegan diets

Those who – like vegans or people with milk protein intolerance – do not consume any dairy products usually actually take in less calcium than they do with a conventional diet containing dairy products, but you do not necessarily have to worry about a calcium deficiency.

In addition, people with a plant-based diet often take in plenty of magnesium, which is necessary for vitamin D activation and calcium utilization, and are more likely to achieve the favorable calcium-magnesium ratio of 2:1. Those who eat dairy products, on the other hand, quickly reach a ratio of 10:1 or even more. Because milk, yogurt, and quark, for example, have a Ca: Mg ratio of 10:1, cream cheese of 12:1, and Emmental even a ratio of 25:1 (contains 25 times more calcium than magnesium).

A plant-based or vegan diet is often a step ahead when it comes to calcium-magnesium balance. Because it’s not just about consuming a lot of calcium, but also about taking into account all the other factors that are necessary for the correct absorption and utilization of calcium.

What is your calcium requirement?

Since nutritional and lifestyle habits vary greatly from person to person, personal calcium requirements can also vary greatly. The following guidelines are therefore not to be understood as binding recommendations, but only as orientation aids.

An adult usually needs about 300 to 400 mg of calcium per day. Since only a third of the calcium that we ingest with food is actually utilized by the body, the German, Austrian, and Swiss Nutrition Societies recommend the following amounts of calcium:

  • Adolescents should consume around 1200 mg of calcium daily.
  • Experts recommend around 1000 to 1200 mg for adults of all ages, although pregnant women can consume more.

However, if you are well supplied with vitamin D and magnesium and all other vital substances and have a healthy digestive system, you can certainly get by with less calcium, since the calcium from food can then be absorbed and utilized much better. The amounts recommended by the nutritional societies are equipped with a large safety factor so that even people with suboptimal health are still reasonably well taken care of.

What is the maximum amount of calcium that can be consumed?

2000 mg of calcium is the maximum limit for people over 50 years of age. 2500 mg of calcium is the limit for adults under 50 years of age. More than these amounts of calcium should therefore not be taken (always counting dietary calcium and food supplements together).

Calcium deficiency: the diagnosis

Diagnosing a calcium deficiency is not easy.

A simple method of tracking down a chronic deficiency is a hair or nail analysis, which you can order yourself without taking a blood sample. You just cut off a little hair at the hairline or some fingernails and send them in. After a few days, you will receive the result by e-mail.

Correct calcium deficiency

If your diet is very low in calcium or you have a proven calcium deficiency, you have two options for remedying your calcium deficiency or for covering your calcium requirements in a healthy way: through nutrition alone or through nutrition in combination with a calcium-containing dietary supplement – always, of course, too in connection with the exercise, vitamin K2, magnesium and – if necessary – vitamin D!

Correct calcium deficiency with dietary supplements

Natural calcium supplements include the following:

  • Sango Sea Coral: The Sango Sea Coral is a natural calcium supplement made primarily from calcium carbonate, which also has the ideal calcium-magnesium ratio of 2:1.
  • Red algae: Another natural calcium preparation is the powder from the calcium-rich red algae (Lithothamnium calcareum). However, a good magnesium supply must also be ensured here, since the algae themselves only supply little magnesium. The alga is also very rich in iodine (45 µg per daily dose), which means that a daily dose of the alga covers 30 percent of the iodine requirement.
  • Green powder: Nettle powder, dandelion powder or other green powders are also excellent sources of calcium of natural origin.

Vital substances for the correct utilization of calcium

In order for calcium to be properly utilized, three vital substances, in particular, are required: vitamins K2 and D3 and magnesium.

  • Magnesium is not only involved in regulating blood calcium levels, calcium absorption, and reducing urinary calcium excretion, but also in activating vitamin D – and without vitamin D no calcium absorption. Therefore, always make sure that you take the right dose of magnesium with your calcium (be it through a dietary supplement or a magnesium-rich diet).
  • Vitamin D3 ensures that calcium can be absorbed from the intestine. Since too much vitamin D can lead to too much calcium intake (to hypercalcemia, which must also be avoided), you should only take vitamin D with calcium if your vitamin D level is too low.
  • Vitamin K2 is said to be responsible for proper calcium distribution in the body, i.e. ensuring that it gets into the bones and teeth and preventing calcium from being stored in the wrong place (e.g. on the blood vessel walls or in the organs).

Eliminate calcium deficiency with a diet

In any case, keep in mind that while dairy products contain a lot of calcium, they can also have many disadvantages, simply because they contain too little magnesium and therefore make it difficult to maintain a healthy calcium-magnesium ratio. Dairy products can also promote the development of diseases in some people. Also for the bones, dairy products do not provide nearly all of the substances that are required for the bones.

Cabbage vegetables, for example, contain just as much calcium as milk, but also many other substances that are crucial for bone health, such as e.g. B. potassium, vitamin K, vitamin C, and magnesium.

Does phytic acid interfere with calcium absorption?

When it comes to covering calcium requirements, warnings are often given about certain secondary plant substances in some vegetables, cereals, nuts, etc., which are said to make calcium absorption more difficult, e.g. B. phytic acid or oxalates. However, the study situation on this is not uniform.

So far z. For example, there is no evidence that a diet high in phytic acid is detrimental to bone density. On the contrary, a scientific study from Spain even showed that a high concentration of phytic acid in urine indicated a reduced risk of fracture.

So it’s not really worth eliminating foods containing phytic acid from your diet and possibly going for dairy products instead – as is advised in many places.

Acids improve calcium absorption

If foods rich in calcium are eaten together with organic acids such as e.g. B. from citrus fruits (citric acid) or generally from foods rich in vitamin C (ascorbic acid), then calcium absorption improves in the presence of the acids.

The bioavailability of calcium from calcium-rich leafy vegetables and calcium-rich sunflower seeds can be wonderfully increased with a dressing made from lemon juice, almond butter, mustard, and herbal salt.

Interactions with other minerals

If you take “normal” amounts of calcium (less than 1500 mg), you don’t have to worry about any unfavorable interactions with other minerals or trace elements.

However, with a daily calcium intake of more than 1500 mg (e.g. when calcium is used therapeutically), it is possible that the calcium inhibits the absorption of other minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and iron.

Conversely, the intake of sodium in excess of the recommended amounts (e.g. due to too much table salt in food or in some mineral waters) can lead to increased calcium being excreted in the urine and thus no longer being available to the body. Of course, this also means that a reduction in sodium intake lowers the calcium requirement.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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