Calcium is a vital mineral that our body uses to stabilize blood pressure and build strong bones and teeth. Everyone should consume the recommended amount of calcium per day through the food they eat or, if necessary, by taking calcium supplements.
When you don’t get enough calcium, you increase the risk of developing diseases such as osteoporosis and calcium deficiency disease, also known as hypocalcemia.
The natural process of aging can cause calcium deficiency disease. Most of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones. As you age, your bones begin to thin, increasing your daily calcium requirement.
It is vital for women to consume the recommended daily dose of calcium during middle age, which is when most women approach menopause. A decline in the hormone estrogen during menopause causes a woman’s bones to thin faster. Most experts agree that menopausal women should increase the amount of calcium in the foods they eat in order to reduce their risk of brittle bone disease (osteoporosis) and calcium deficiency disease. During and after menopause, women should consume about 1,500 mg of calcium every day.
Premature babies, born to diabetic mothers, and those who may have experienced low oxygen levels during gestation, run the risk of developing neonatal hypocalcemia.
The hormone disorder hypoparathyroidism may also cause calcium deficiency disease. People with this condition do not produce enough parathyroid hormone. This hormone controls calcium levels in the blood.
Other causes of calcium deficiency disease include malnutrition (starvation) and malabsorption (when your body cannot absorb the vitamins and minerals it needs from the food you eat).
Early-stage calcium deficiency may not cause any symptoms; however, as the condition progresses, symptoms will develop.
Severe symptoms of calcium deficiency disease include:
- memory loss
- muscle spasms
- numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face
If you have symptoms of hypocalcemia, contact your doctor. He or she will go over your medical history, and will likely ask about any family history you have of calcium deficiency and osteoporosis.
If your doctor suspects calcium deficiency, he or she will take a blood sample to check your blood calcium level. Sustained low calcium levels in your blood may confirm a diagnosis of calcium deficiency disease.
Calcium deficiency is usually simple to treat—typically it involves adding more calcium to your diet. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe calcium supplements.
Do not self-treat by taking a large amount of calcium supplements. Taking more than the recommended dose of calcium supplements without your doctor’s approval can lead to a calcium overdose, which could be deadly.
If diet changes and supplements are not, your physician may want to regulate your calcium levels by giving you regular calcium injections.
Complications from hypocalcemia include brittle bones, eye damage, and an abnormal heartbeat. If it goes untreated, calcium deficiency disease will eventually lead to death.
Long-term calcium deficiency can increase your risk for developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes your bones to become brittle due to bone loss. With this disease, your bones fracture with little impact. Complications from osteoporosis include:
- spinal fractures
- inability to walk
Consume calcium and vitamin D every day. Ask your doctor how much of each one you need, based on your age and gender. Vitamin D is important because it increases the rate at which calcium is absorbed into your blood.
However, remember that foods that are high in Vitamin D and calcium, such as dairy products, can also be high in saturated fat and trans fat. Make sure to choose low-fat or fat-free options to reduce your risk of developing high cholesterol and heart disease. Healthy, calcium-rich food choices include sardines and spinach.
Supplement your diet by taking a multivitamin. A multivitamin may not contain all of the calcium you need, so be sure to consume a well-rounded diet. If you are pregnant, take a prenatal vitamin.
If you are at high risk for developing calcium deficiency, your doctor may suggest that you take calcium supplements. Calcium supplements are available in liquid, tablet, and chewable forms.