Calcium is one of the most important minerals that must be supplied to the body. If the body is insufficiently supplied with calcium, deficiency symptoms, the so-called calcium deficiency, occur. A person weighing 60 kilograms, for example, consists of almost 1.1 kilograms of calcium, with 99 percent of the calcium in bones and teeth.
What is calcium deficiency?
An adult needs around 800 milligrams of calcium per day; even a full glass of milk covers this need. However, some people, such as pregnant women or nursing mothers, have an increased need for calcium. It is therefore particularly important to consume sufficient calcium, especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Not only pregnant women, however, also children should be adequately supplied with calcium, because they can quickly develop a deficiency. Older women should also ensure that they have an adequate supply of calcium, because they are at a particularly high risk of developing osteoporosis.
But what role does calcium play in the human body? This is particularly important for the skeletal system and the teeth, but it also plays a crucial role in the function of numerous other organs. For example, it ensures a low cholesterol level and calcium is also of crucial importance for the defense against inflammation and allergies. Calcium is also responsible for blood coagulation and heart function.
The causes of a calcium deficiency are usually an inadequate or unbalanced diet. A deficiency in vitamin D can also cause a deficiency in calcium. Calcium deficiency has been observed in some people even when using softened water.
A temporary calcium deficiency, however, can also result from what is known as hyperventilation, i.e. a breathing disorder. In most cases this is psychological. In addition, certain diseases of the kidney or thyroid can cause a calcium deficiency. Even some medications can lead to a calcium deficiency – many diuretics deserve special mention.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
In the early stages, calcium deficiency is usually not associated with symptoms that the patient can recognize. If the incorrect supply is not corrected, the person affected often first notices a tingling sensation (pins and needles) in the limbs or at the corners of the mouth. In the next phase, muscle spasms usually set in, and the muscles also react over-sensitive when the doctor examines them with the reflex hammer.
Typical symptoms also include disorders that manifest themselves in the skin, hair and nails. The nails often become brittle and splinter, the hair begins to fall out, and eczema forms on the skin. Over time, the risk of fractures also increases.
Existing osteoporosis will worsen and progress rapidly. Many patients also experience cardiovascular problems such as cardiac arrhythmias or low blood pressure. In severe cases, the heart becomes weak and the heartbeat slows down.
A typical sign of advanced calcium deficiency is so-called tetany, which is accompanied by severe cramps in the hands and feet. The hands often curve in the so-called “paw position” while the toes form an equinus and point to the ground even when sitting. Mental symptoms that occur regularly with calcium deficiency are diffuse anxiety states and depression.
Calcium deficiency is first reflected in bones and teeth. A disease that occurs particularly often due to calcium deficiency is osteoporosis, the loss of bones. The teeth also become significantly less resistant and, in the worst case, can even fall out. Periodontal disease, namely gum disease, is primarily caused by a lack of calcium.
Severe cramps are another symptom that can show up as the calcium deficiency progresses.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t get too much calcium into your body. An overdose can lead to nausea and vomiting as well as kidney stones, muscle weakness and fatigue. Even depression can result from an overdose of calcium.
An untreated calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis. It is a disease of the skeleton. The bone structure is affected and the bone density decreases. There is an increased risk of suffering a bone fracture. Fractures are particularly common in the thigh bones, the humerus, or the spokes.
Broken bones also occur regularly on the wrists of those affected. In addition, there is a loss of height due to vertebral body collapses. This manifests itself in a stooped posture of the person concerned. Calcium intake can reduce osteoporosis. However, not all symptoms can be reversed in the case of long-term calcium deficiency.
Those affected are not allowed to lift heavy loads and should seek help for such activities. Rickets can be another disorder caused by a lack of calcium. It is an impairment of the mineralization of the growing bone. Calcium also plays an essential role in muscle activity.
If there is a calcium deficiency, it can lead to increased muscle cramps. A long-term calcium deficiency can also cause heart problems. The heart becomes weaker, contraction is restricted, and the blood circulation in the body is disturbed. In this case, the person concerned must be treated as an in-patient in the hospital.
When should you go to the doctor?
Anyone who thinks they are suffering from calcium deficiency should have a medical examination before taking calcium supplements. The doctor can then confirm whether an increased calcium intake is necessary at all. With the help of blood or urine tests it is possible for the doctor to confirm a calcium deficiency, and an EKG (electrocardiogram) shows typical changes in the case of a deficiency. In addition, the doctor can determine the causes behind the deficiency.
When self-treating with calcium-containing food supplements or drugs, it should be noted that too much calcium can also damage the body. An excess of calcium leads to cardiac arrhythmias, listlessness, depression, gastrointestinal problems and muscle weakness. In addition, a doctor should clarify which calcium supplements are recommended.
There are many over-the-counter products, but not all of them are high quality. In addition, some preparations are often combinations of different vitamins and minerals, the components of which often neutralize or prevent one another. In case of doubt, a doctor can therefore make a recommendation for a specific calcium product.
Treatment & Therapy
If there is a calcium deficiency, it is usually sufficient to consistently change your diet. In addition to dairy products, nuts are also particularly recommended for those with calcium deficiency. However, there is also sufficient calcium in many types of vegetables and also in whole-grain bread.
Special calcium supplements, which are available in all pharmacies and health food stores, also help. To treat or prevent osteoporosis, you should consume around 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily in the form of tablets or powder.
A very special insider tip is calcium-rich healing water – this should contain at least 250 milligrams of calcium per liter. This medicinal water can not only help to remedy a calcium deficiency, but also alleviate existing diseases such as osteoporosis.
Outlook & forecast
The prognosis for calcium deficiency is very good. For most patients, it is sufficient to consistently change their food intake. In doing so, it is increasingly tailored to the needs of the body. At the beginning there is a high intake of calcium through food such as fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts. Increased consumption of these foods is recommended for several days until the organism is back in equilibrium.
As soon as the deficiency has been remedied, food consumption is further optimized so that the calcium content remains stable in the long term. In return, the initially increased consumption of calcium-containing products can be reduced back to a normal proportion. In addition, calcium supplements can be used to shorten the healing process. These are available in pharmacies, drug stores or health food stores. Of course, a doctor can also issue a suitable prescription.
With calcium deficiency, the patient has a good chance of recovery within a few weeks. The prerequisite for this is that the defect has not caused any consequential damage to date. If the bones or tooth structure have already been damaged by a long-term calcium deficiency, complete healing is unlikely. Both are considered irreparable and can only be improved by a replacement or a change in general lifestyle.
The best way to prevent calcium deficiency is through an appropriate diet. But which foods contain a particularly high amount of calcium? All dairy products should be mentioned here in particular; But nuts and vegetables as well as a number of whole grain products also contain sufficient calcium.
In addition, getting enough exercise is essential to staying healthy and preventing diseases like osteoporosis. You should exercise at least about 45 minutes a day – a walk in the fresh air is enough here.
Acute calcium deficiency usually does not require any follow-up care, but chronic ones do. A chronic deficiency situation can arise, for example, from taking magnesium supplements for years without the addition of calcium. Since calcium and magnesium should always be taken in a certain ratio to each other, the lack of one of the two minerals leads to decalcified bones and teeth in the long run.
These are the consequences of chronic calcium deficiency and a low-calcium diet. The organism uses calcium sources such as bones and teeth to compensate for the deficiency. However, the calcium intake should also be increased if the stomach has been reduced by surgery.
Since the smaller stomach means that much less food can then be consumed, a chronic calcium deficiency should be prevented. Other nutrients and vitamins should also be substituted if necessary if a gastric sleeve is present or after a gastric band has been inserted.
The same applies after an operation on the parathyroid glands or a transplant of the parathyroid glands. These measures can severely disrupt the calcium-phosphate metabolism. Removing the thyroid can also cause calcium deficiency. In these cases, a substitution with the mineral is essential.
A diet-related calcium deficiency is rare. However, it is definitely possible in the case of gross malnutrition without sufficient supply of vital substances or in the case of long-standing anorexia nervosa.
You can do that yourself
A varied and calcium-rich diet usually prevents calcium deficiency. The foods that contain a lot of calcium include milk and soy products as well as green vegetables, nuts, herbs and some types of berries. In addition, eggs, fish and mineral water have a high calcium content. The calcium level can be easily balanced with a healthy diet.
If the doctor determines that the calcium level is low, drugs are used to raise the calcium level again. However, there are also calcium supplements that are available over the counter and can be purchased in pharmacies. These over-the-counter medications are suitable for preventing or remedying a minor calcium deficiency.
The preparations are available in the form of effervescent tablets, ampoules or in powder form and often also contain magnesium, vitamin D3 and zinc. When consuming larger amounts of calcium, it is advisable to spread the dose over the day and drink it with plenty of fluids in order to ensure optimal absorption of the calcium.
Caution is advised when adding calcium by yourself. An excess of calcium can have serious consequences such as cardiac arrhythmias or digestive problems. It is therefore advisable to have your doctor monitor your calcium levels.