Calcium is one of the most important minerals for the body. It ensures healthy bones and teeth and performs many important functions in different areas of our body. However, many people do not absorb it sufficiently. If there is too little of the nutrient in the blood, one speaks of a calcium deficiency (also calcium deficiency or hypocalcemia).
To counteract such a deficiency, however, there are measures that you can easily implement. In this article we will show you the essential functions of calcium. You will find out what causes and symptoms occur in the event of a deficiency and how you can remedy it. This will give you helpful tips about your diet and what you should consider.
the essentials in brief
- Calcium is a mineral that is not only responsible for stable bones and healthy teeth, but also for many other functions in the body. It is therefore indispensable for the health of the human organism. It is also an important component for living beings and plants.
- If too little of the mineral is taken in over a long period of time, calcium deficiency can occur. You can recognize this by symptoms such as muscle cramps, brittle nails or dry skin. In the long term, the lack of calcium can even lead to bone loss (osteoporosis).
- To prevent a deficiency, you should eat a calcium-rich diet and avoid foods that can make calcium absorption difficult. Vitamin D, exercise, and dietary supplements can also help.
Definition: what is calcium?
Calcium is a mineral that is quantitatively one of the most important minerals in the human organism. It is mainly found in the hard part of a person's bones. 99% of all calcium in a body is found in the skeleton. The remaining 1% is evenly distributed among the teeth and soft tissues, with only 0.1% found in the extracellular fluid (ECF) (1).
Depending on size and gender, a person's body stores one to two kilograms of calcium, most of which is found in the skeleton. (Image Source: Chris J. Mitchell / Pexels)
Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth. In addition, the nutrient is important for muscle contraction, heart action, maintenance of the nervous system and normal blood clotting. In this respect, it is indispensable for human health (2).
Background: What you should know about calcium deficiency
Before we give you the best possible tips for solving calcium deficiency, let's give you some background information about this mineral.
For this purpose, we have answered the most frequently asked questions in a few paragraphs to clear up any remaining doubts.
What is the function of calcium in the body?
Calcium serves a variety of purposes in the body and is involved in a number of processes. Because it ensures the strength and stability of bones and teeth, the mineral is often referred to as "bone mineral" (3). Some important features are as follows (4):
- Strengthening and strengthening of bones and teeth
- Involved in muscle contraction and a healthy heart rhythm
- Stimulus transmission of signals in the nervous system
- Activation of the blood coagulation system
- Stabilization of the cell membrane and involvement in cell division and cell specialization
- Activator for the functioning of digestive enzymes
So that all these functions can be fulfilled, it is important to get enough calcium from your food. The mineral enters the bloodstream via the gastrointestinal tract and is ultimately excreted in sweat, urine and stool (2).
What is the daily requirement of calcium?
In order for calcium to be fully functional, you need to take a sufficient amount of it each day. The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) recommends different amounts of calcium depending on age. The following table gives you an overview of the recommended daily requirement:
|Old||Daily requirement in mg|
|0 to under 4 months||220|
|4 to under 12 months||330|
|1 to under 4 years||600|
|4 to under 7 years||750|
|7 to under 10 years||900|
|10 to under 13 years||1100|
|13 to under 19 years||1200|
|19 years and older||1000|
As you can see, the daily requirement for small children is still relatively low and increases with age. In addition, pregnant and breastfeeding women under the age of 19 should consume 1200 mg of calcium per day and those over the age of 19 should consume 1000 mg per day (5).
What are the causes of calcium deficiency?
If there is not enough calcium in the body, this can be due to a reduced absorption of the nutrient in the intestine. The reasons for this can be manifold. The following are among the most common causes of calcium deficiency (6):
- Inadequate dietary calcium intake
- Vitamin D deficiency, which impairs the absorption of calcium
- Increased calcium requirements in certain phases of life, such as during growth or pregnancy
- Malabsorption, eg intestinal inflammation
- Hormonal disorders, eg a malfunction of the thyroid gland
- Kidney diseases leading to increased loss of calcium
- Hyperphosphatemia (too much phosphate in the blood)
About every second person gets too little calcium.
A study showed that older people and young women in Germany in particular do not take in enough calcium. Approximately 55% of all women and 46% of all men in Germany do not reach the recommended amount of calcium intake per day.
That corresponds to about half of the population. Such a calcium deficiency can lead to significant consequences. Young women between the ages of 14 and 18 in particular have insufficient calcium intake (7).
What are the symptoms of calcium deficiency?
If you are calcium deficient, certain symptoms may appear. The table below gives you some indications of insufficient calcium intake (8):
|muscle cramps||One of the first signs of deficiency is a nervous condition called tetany, which is characterized by muscle spasms, numbness, and tingling in the arms and legs. This type of muscle spasm usually occurs at night, especially in the legs.|
|Dry skin and brittle nails||A common sign of calcium deficiency is when your skin becomes dry and your fingernails become brittle. Eczema can even form and teeth may turn yellow.|
|Increased PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms||A woman may begin to experience more cramps or a change in her menstrual flow.|
|Bone fractures or fractures||Without the adequate amount of calcium, bones become weak, which can lead to multiple small or full fractures. Since our bones serve as calcium stores and this mineral is withdrawn from the bones in the event of a persistent deficiency, osteoporosis (bone atrophy) can even occur.|
The last-mentioned sign of bone loss is a serious consequence. The problem of calcium deficiency is particularly great for older people, since they are already more susceptible to diseases such as osteoporosis. So it is extremely important for them to get enough calcium.
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the structure of the bones changes and bone mass decreases.
A slight and short-lasting deficiency, on the other hand, is not noticed by most people. In the case of moderate calcium deficiency, in addition to the symptoms mentioned in the table, signs such as palpitations, increased cholesterol levels, slow heart rate, insomnia or growth disorders can also occur.
What is calcium deficiency in dogs?
Calcium intake is also very important for dogs. It is not only responsible for healthy teeth and bones, but also fulfills many other bodily functions that are very important. In order for these physical processes to run smoothly, you should ensure that your four-legged friend is fed an adequate amount of calcium.
Calcium requirements can vary depending on age, type of dog and feeding. For example, growing puppies and dogs have higher calcium requirements.
So that you can recognize early on whether your animal companion is suffering from a calcium deficiency, you can look out for the following symptoms:
- wheezing, restlessness
- cramps, tics
- Lack of coordination
- semblance of confusion
- Howling and drooling
Furthermore, a lack of the mineral in dogs can promote the misalignment of limbs, lead to over-limbs, torn ligaments or tendons in the dog's bones or cause dental problems. Your dog may also suffer from stiff gait and muscle tremors.
How does calcium deficiency manifest itself in plants?
Calcium is responsible for cell division and thus for the structure of plants. It performs many important functions such as strengthening cell walls, aiding in the development and functioning of metabolism and the root system.
If a plant is not supplied with enough calcium, growth can be disrupted. As a long-term consequence, the plant remains smaller and has poorer quality fruit (9). You can recognize the lack of various statements:
- Brown spots on the leaves
- The tips of the leaves curl
- The tribe is getting weaker
- The leaves turn dark green
- The plants bloom prematurely
To prevent these consequences, you should pay attention to the right ratios of temperature, light, wind speed, acidity and moisture content. You can also use calcium-rich soil to grow your plant.
What are the consequences of calcium deficiency during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, the need for nutrients is significantly higher, since not only your own body but also that of the growing baby has to be nourished. Calcium plays an important role in building the baby's bones and teeth. It also ensures the bone strength of pregnant women.
Pregnant and lactating women have calcium requirements of around 1000 mg per day, or 1200 mg per day if they are under the age of 19 (5).
If a pregnant woman takes in too little calcium from food, a deficiency can occur. The purpose of this is that the unborn child uses the reserves of the mother so that the calcium is drawn from the bone stores.
The consequences usually only become apparent after a few years, for example in the form of bone loss. In particular, women who rarely consume dairy products and who also have many consecutive pregnancies can be at risk.
Calcium deficiency: The best tips for a balanced calcium level
To prevent your body from lacking calcium in the first place, there are a few helpful tips you can follow. These will be presented to you in the next sections.
Diet rich in calcium
In order to remedy or prevent a deficiency, you should eat a calcium-rich diet, i.e. eat foods with a high calcium content on a regular basis. These include milk and dairy products or green vegetables such as kale, broccoli or fennel.
Not only dairy products have a high calcium content. Green vegetables like broccoli are also good sources of supply and are also very healthy. (Image Source: Polina Tankilevitch / Pexels)
Wholemeal bread, oatmeal and nuts are other suitable sources of calcium. You can also get the nutrient from calcium-rich mineral water (at least 150 mg/liter) (10). The following table shows you how high the calcium content of certain foods is (11):
|Groceries||Amount (in grams)||Calcium content (in mg)|
|Low-fat milk (1.5%)||500||600|
Avoid “calcium robbers” if possible.
It is also important to avoid so-called “calcium thieves”. These are foods that make it difficult for the body to absorb calcium and thus have a negative effect on the calcium level in the bones. Fast food, soft drinks or ready meals should therefore not be included in your menu.
In addition, there are some nutrients that interfere with the absorption of calcium when taken at the same time. For example, if high doses of calcium and magnesium are taken at the same time, this can inhibit the absorption of the other nutrient. Therefore, try not to take calcium together with magnesium if possible.
Lots of exercise and vitamin D
If you move a lot, this can help you to make your bones more resistant. It is also good to do outdoor activities to get enough vitamin D through sunbathing . The formation of vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the bones.
Vitamin D is the only vitamin that our body can produce itself. This requires exposure to sunlight.
If necessary, you can consider taking a vitamin D supplement in winter, since the body is supplied with less sun exposure in the winter months. Important: Find out beforehand exactly which preparation is suitable for you and whether there can be any side effects.
taking dietary supplements
If the need is not met despite an appropriate diet, dietary supplements may be taken. These are available in various forms, for example as effervescent or chewable tablets, or powder form (calcium carbonate). Calcium supplements are often combined with vitamin D as this improves absorption.
However, you should always consult a doctor beforehand. This can ensure that you find a suitable remedy with an appropriate dosage. Otherwise it can happen that you even take too much of the mineral and it comes to a calcium excess (hypercalcaemia). This, in turn, can have harmful effects on your body.
Calcium performs a number of important functions in our body and should therefore be taken in sufficient quantities. A calcium deficiency can have significant long-term consequences, in the worst case it can lead to diseases such as osteoporosis. So that you can prevent or remedy a lack of the mineral, it is usually sufficient to ensure a balanced diet that promotes the absorption of calcium.
Foods such as dairy products, green vegetables, legumes or whole grain bread are then particularly suitable. In addition, the intake of vitamin D, which transports calcium from the intestine into the blood, helps. If your calcium levels are not covered despite these tips, dietary supplements such as calcium tablets can be a solution. However, you should definitely seek advice from your doctor.
- World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Vitamin and mineral requirements in human nutrition. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2004.Source
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium (2011): Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. National Academies Press (US) Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih .gov/pubmed/21796828) Source
- calcimed.de: Calcium – the bone mineral. Source
- Preedy, VR (Ed.). (2015). Calcium: Chemistry, Analysis, Function and Effects. Royal Society of Chemistry. Source
- dge.de: Calcium. German Society for Nutrition. Source
- calcimed.de/calciumlack: Calcium deficiency - symptoms and causes. Source
- Max Rubner Institute, Federal Research Institute for Nutrition and Food. Results report part 2, National Consumption Study II. Karlsruhe, 2008. Source
- Pravina P, Sayaji D, & Avinash M (2013). Calcium and its role in the human body. International Journal of Research in Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences, 4(2), 659-668. Source
- Jones, RW, & Lunt, OR (1967). The function of calcium in plants. The Botanical Review, 33(4), 407-426. Source
- Galan P, Arnaud MJ, Czernichow S, Delabroise AM, Preziosi P, Bertrais S, Franchisseur C, Maurel M, Favier A, Hercberg S. Contribution of mineral waters to dietary calcium and magnesium intake in a French adult population. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002 Nov;102(11):1658-62. doi: 10.1016/s0002-8223(02)90353-6. PMID: 12449291. Source
- osd-ev.org: The best foods as calcium suppliers. Source