woman with stomachache

Calcium deficiency: how is it produced and what symptoms and consequences does it have?

There is no other mineral in the human body in such high amounts as is the case of calcium. An adult has about 1,000 to 1,500 grams of the mineral, which is about 2 to 2.5 percent of total body mass. 99.9 percent of these are linked to teeth and bones, the remaining 0.1 percent is found in body fluids.

The daily requirement for calcium can generally be met quite easily with a balanced diet. However, calcium deficiency ( hypocalcemia ) can occur in certain situations. You can find out what causes it, how it affects your body, and what you can do about it here.

The functions of the mineral in the human body

Calcium is an important mineral for humans, found mainly in bones. Calcium is also found in teeth and blood. Both too much and too little can sometimes be deadly.

Calcium ensures that certain nerve impulses are converted into muscle activity in the body. The mineral is important for blood clotting, and it also plays a role in the release of hormones and the regulation of enzyme activity. Calcium is said to have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties.

The structure and maintenance of bones and teeth is probably the most important task that calcium assumes in the human body. Bones represent a large reserve of calcium and, the mineral is released when necessary. Calcium is important for muscle and nerve function, for blood clotting, and also for heart, lung, and kidney function.

The calcium value is determined in blood serum or urine. To determine serum calcium, blood must be drawn on an empty stomach. Reference values ​​are 2.1 to 2.6 mmol / L in adult blood serum and 1.7 to 2.7 mmol / L in newborn blood serum. To cover the calcium requirement and not promote calcium deficiency, the following daily intake amounts are recommended according to age:

  • zero to four months: 220 milligrams
  • four to twelve months: 330 milligrams
  • one to four years: 600 milligrams
  • four to seven years: 750 milligrams
  • seven to ten years: 900 milligrams
  • 10 to 13 years: 1,100 milligrams
  • 13 to 15 years: 1,200 milligrams
  • 15 to 19 years: 1,200 milligrams
  • 19 to 65 years and older: 1,000 milligrams

For pregnant and lactating women, the daily calcium intake is also 1,200 milligrams.

The actual calcium requirement

The actual calcium requirement is subject to certain fluctuations due to individual nutritional and lifestyle habits, so the recommendations for intake amounts can only be a guide.

As a general rule of thumb, an adult needs around 700 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day. However, since only one-third of calcium is actually used by the body from food, the National Institutes of Health also recommends a higher intake.

What Happens When There Is A Calcium Deficiency: Typical Symptoms

Calcium is one of the most important nutrients in the body. It is responsible for numerous functions, so a deficiency can also be multiple.  Hypocalcemia is spoken of in adults when the level of calcium is less than 2.1 mmol / l in the blood serum. In children, the value is correspondingly lower according to age.

Typical symptoms of a deficiency can be:

Weak bones and teeth

Calcium is particularly important for bones and teeth.

Building and strengthening bones depend on an adequate supply of calcium. If there is a deficiency, the bones become weak, and osteoporosis and broken bones are more common. If calcium deficiency persists for several years it can have a negative effect on overall strength and posture.

Both teens and adults over 50 should make sure there are enough calcium-containing foods on their daily menu. Otherwise, if the body was deficient in calcium, the body would extract calcium from the bones to ensure normal cell function. The result is weakened bones.

Calcium is also very important for teeth. If there is a deficiency in childhood, this can lead to the delayed or faulty dental formation. Calcium deficiency in adults is usually manifested by cavities or other problems in the mouth.

Pain and cramps in the muscles

The most common symptoms of calcium deficiency include muscle pain and cramps. These arise because nerve cells become more sensitive when calcium is lacking. The function of the nerves is impaired because the function of the nerve cells is impaired. Feeling numb, tingling in the hands and legs, or muscle spasms are also typical of a lack of calcium.

Common colds and illnesses

The human body needs calcium to maintain an active immune system and to fight viruses, bacteria, and fungi. If there is a deficiency, the immune system is weakened and the body becomes much more susceptible to colds and other infections.

As an alkaline mineral, calcium increases the level of oxygen in the blood, making it impossible for bacteria and fungi to survive. Calcium also helps promote the healing process of wounds and therefore repair damaged tissue.

Persistent sleep disorders

Calcium promotes the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. This hormone is extremely important for the sleep-wake rhythm. At night, melatonin is released more and more giving people a good night’s sleep.

The production of melatonin is hampered when there is a lack of calcium and the sleep-wake rhythm is disturbed. Calcium can also act as a natural sleep aid and better sleep.

Weight loss problems

Calcium plays a crucial role in the regulation of energy metabolism. It can accelerate weight loss and is said to help the body store less fat. Also, it should help that the nutrients are used much better in the blood. A deficiency, on the other hand, contributes to increased fat storage, making weight loss more difficult.

Discomfort during menstruation

Calcium can help reduce fluctuations during a menstrual cycle and also reduce the severity of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It can also reduce cramps and support the development of the uterus and ovarian hormones.

Delayed puberty in adolescents

If calcium deficiency occurs early in childhood, puberty may be delayed in girls. Also, there may be problems during menstruation (for example, irregular periods, severe cramps in the lower abdomen).

girl with stomachache

Other symptoms and consequences of a calcium deficiency

A deficiency in calcium can also be noted by the following symptoms:

  • Changes in the skin and hair, as well as in the nails (brittle nails, brittle hair, eczema formation)
  • increased susceptibility to allergies
  • Problems with the cardiovascular system
  • Digestive system disorders
  • incontinence
  • waterfalls
  • mental disorders, anxiety, depression

Causes of calcium deficiency

Among the most common causes of calcium deficiency include hormonal imbalances or lack of vitamin D. The human body cannot produce the mineral on its own, so it is extremely important that it is supplied regularly and properly through food. A national consumption study showed that men ingest an average of 807 and women about 738 milligrams of calcium through their diet. This means that the amount of consumption is less than the recommended daily amount. As a general rule, only one in two people meet calcium requirements through food.

Women in particular must make sure they have enough calcium in their bodies during and after menopause. This is because the concentration of hormones such as estrogen decreases. However, this hormone is necessary for the absorption of calcium in the structure of the bones. 

It is similar to vitamin D. Because calcium absorption takes place mainly in the intestine, this vitamin is essential. It helps promote absorption from the small intestine and also ensures that the mineral is incorporated into the bones. Therefore, vitamin D is crucially involved in the absorption of calcium. An adequate intake of calcium would be impossible without the vitamin.

Vitamin D is actually the preliminary stage of a hormone that the body can make on its own. The sunlight is the most important prerequisite for this because the formation of vitamin D can only be stimulated by the action of UV light on the skin.

The problem is that the supply of vitamin D is not always sufficient due to geographical location. Since internal production also decreases with increasing age, older people in particular also have low levels of vitamin D. Therefore, not only the consumption of foods rich in calcium is important, but foods with vitamin D should also be on the menu.

The following causes can also promote calcium deficiency:

  • low calcium diet (very little milk and dairy products)
  • excessive consumption of coffee or alcohol
  • increased calcium requirement (for example, during puberty, during pregnancy, while breastfeeding)
  • Age-related calcium deficiency (around age 40, the absorption of calcium from the gut decreases by about 0.2 percent annually)
  • vegan diet
  • Eating disorders (eg, anorexia, bulimia).
  • Disorders of calcium absorption and utilization (for example, celiac disease)
  • Intolerances to milk or milk sugar
  • Lack of magnesium
  • increased phosphate level
  • indigestion
  • Taking medications (for example, cortisone, laxatives, and diuretics)
  • The thyroid gland, kidney, or pancreas disorders.
  • high sweat loss (for example, in competitive athletes)

Each person loses around 300 milligrams of calcium per day through sweat, urine, and feces, so the recommended intake amounts should be observed if possible.

three glasses of pink yogurt on a mat

How is calcium deficiency treated?

As a general rule of thumb, a calcium deficiency can be easily remedied by changing the diet accordingly. If an acute deficiency has been diagnosed, calcium is given intravenously. Under certain circumstances, patients may also need respiratory assistance. Treatment of chronic deficiency symptoms is carried out initially with calcium and vitamin D preparations under regular control and with appropriate medication adjustment.

If other disorders and diseases have been excluded, the body can be supported in regulating the calcium balance. Basically, cause-oriented therapy is always necessary when treating calcium deficiency. Because only when the cause has been eliminated can the lack of calcium be remedied.

Here’s how you can prevent calcium deficiency

You can prevent calcium deficiency by designing your menu to contain enough calcium-containing foods. Cheese, milk, and other dairy products are the most important sources of calcium. However, calcium is also present in small amounts in plant foods, such as whole grains, legumes, or kale.

The following foods provide calcium to the body:

  • They contain 300 milligrams of calcium: 250 ml of whey, 250 g of thick milk, 300 g of fruit yogurt, 250 g of yogurt, 250 ml of milk, 300 g of cottage cheese, 250 ml of kefir
  • They contain 200 milligrams of calcium: 35 g Camembert, 25 g Edam, 20 g Gouda, 20 g Emmental, 20 g hard cheese, 35 g processed cheese, 50 g brie, 250 g raw celery, 400 g cooked green beans, 300 g kohlrabi raw, 25 g of sesame seeds, 400 g of cooked artichokes, 125 g of cooked kale

Mineral water can also help meet your daily calcium needs. However, it is important that the calcium content is as high as possible, while the sodium content is low. Water with a calcium content of more than 550 milligrams per liter with a sodium content of fewer than 220 milligrams per liter is considered useful.

Meet calcium needs with nutritional supplements

An adequate supply of calcium in food is generally possible. However, certain situations call for taking calcium supplements, which are available in tablet or effervescent form. Among other things, this is the case in the following situations:

Even with a higher calcium requirement, it may be necessary to take supplements. However, high-dose calcium supplements should not be taken without medical advice. The reason is simple: there can be an excess of calcium quite quickly.

In addition to an adequate supply of vitamin D, the supply of magnesium must also be ensured. Magnesium plays a role in the regulation of calcium levels in the blood, as well as in the absorption of calcium and in reducing the excretion of calcium. Therefore, in addition to sufficient vitamin D, there must always be the correct amount of magnesium in the body. The magnesium-calcium ratio should be at least one to two to prevent a deficiency in the mineral.

Acids also show better calcium absorption. So, if foods with calcium are consumed together with organic acids (for example, citric acid from citrus fruits), this helps against the lack of calcium and increases the bioavailability of the mineral.

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