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Calcium is a vital mineral. Your body uses it to build strong bones and teeth. Calcium is also needed for your heart and other muscles to function properly. When you don’t get enough calcium, you increase your risk of developing disorders like:
calcium deficiency disease (hypocalcemia)
Children who don’t get enough calcium may not grow to their full potential height as adults.
You should consume the recommended amount of calcium per day through the food you eat, supplements, or vitamins.
What causes hypocalcemia?
Many people are at an increased risk for calcium deficiency as they age. This deficiency may be due to a variety of factors, including:
poor calcium intake over a long period of time, especially in childhood
medications that may decrease calcium absorption
dietary intolerance to foods rich in calcium
hormonal changes, especially in women
certain genetic factors
It’s important to ensure proper calcium intake at all ages.
For children and teenagers, the recommended daily allowances for calcium are the same for both sexes. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the daily allowances are
Age group Daily recommended
Children, 9-18 years 1,300 mg
Children, 4-8 years 1,000 mg
Children, 1-3 years 700 mg
Children, 7-12 months 260 mg
Children, 0-6 months 200 mg
Women need to increase their calcium intake earlier in life than men, starting in middle age. Meeting the necessary calcium requirement is particularly important as a woman approaches menopause.
During menopause, women should also increase their calcium intake to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and calcium deficiency disease. The decline in the hormone estrogen during menopause causes a woman’s bones to thin faster.
The hormone disorder hypoparathyroidism may also cause calcium deficiency disease. People with this condition don’t produce enough parathyroid hormone, which controls calcium levels in the blood.
Other causes of hypocalcemia include malnutrition and malabsorption. Malnutrition is when you’re not getting enough nutrients, while malabsorption is when your body can’t absorb the vitamins and minerals you need from the food you eat. Additional causes include:
low levels of vitamin D, which makes it harder to absorb calcium
medications, such phenytoin, phenobarbital, rifampin, corticosteroids, and drugs used to treat elevated calcium levels
hypermagnesemia and hypomagnesemia
massive blood transfusions
certain chemotherapy drugs
“Hungry bone syndrome,” which may occur after surgery for hyperparathyroidism
removal of parathyroid gland tissue as part of surgery to remove the thyroid gland
If you miss your daily dose of calcium, you won’t become calcium deficient overnight. But it’s still important to make an effort to get enough calcium every day, since the body uses it quickly. Vegans are more likely to become calcium deficient quickly because they don’t eat calcium-rich dairy products.
Calcium deficiency won’t produce short-term symptoms because the body maintains calcium levels by taking it directly from the bones. But long-term low levels of calcium can have serious effects.
What are the symptoms of hypocalcemia?
Early stage calcium deficiency may not cause any symptoms. However, symptoms will develop as the condition progresses.
Severe symptoms of hypocalcemia include:
confusion or memory loss
numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face
weak and brittle nails
easy fracturing of the bones
Calcium deficiencies can affect all parts of the body, resulting in weak nails, slower hair growth, and fragile, thin skin.
Calcium also plays an important role in both neurotransmitter release and muscle contractions. So, calcium deficiencies can bring on seizures in otherwise healthy people.
If you start experiencing neurological symptoms like memory loss, numbness and tingling, hallucinations, or seizures, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.
What are the possible complications of hypocalcemia?
Complications from calcium deficiency disease include eye damage, an abnormal heartbeat, and osteoporosis.
Complications from osteoporosis include:
spinal fractures or other bone fractures
If left untreated, calcium deficiency disease could eventually be fatal.
How can hypocalcemia be prevented?
You can prevent calcium deficiency disease by including calcium in your diet every day.
Be aware that foods high in calcium, such as dairy products, can also be high in saturated fat and trans fat. Choose low-fat or fat-free options to reduce your risk of developing high cholesterol and heart disease.
You can get 1/4 to 1/3 of your RDA of calcium in a single serving of some milks and yogurts. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), other calcium-rich foods include:
Food Approximate serving size Amount of calcium per serving
Sardines (in oil) 3.75 oz. 351 mg
Salmon (pink, canned, with bones) 3 oz. 183 mg
Fortified tofu (regular, not firm) 1/3 cup 434 mg
Edamame (frozen) 1 cup 71-98 mg
White beans 1 cup 161 mg
Collard greens (cooked) 1 cup 268 mg
Broccoli (cooked) 1 cup 62 mg
Figs (dried) 5 figs 68 mg
Fortified orange juice 1 cup 364 mg
Wheat bread 1 slice 36 mg
While meeting your calcium requirement is very important, you also want to make sure you’re not getting too much. According to the Mayo Clinic, upper limits of calcium intake in milligrams (mg) for adults are:
2,000 mg per day for men and women 51 years of age and up
2,500 mg per day for men and women 19 to 50 years of age
You might want to supplement your diet by taking a multivitamin. Or your doctor may recommend supplements if you’re at high risk for developing a calcium deficiency.
Multivitamins may not contain all of the calcium you need, so be sure to eat a well-rounded diet. If you’re pregnant, take a prenatal vitamin.
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