Signs of severe calcium deficiency include abnormal heartbeat, muscle
pains and cramps, numbness, stiffness and tingling of the hands and feet. Children can
suffer from rickets, with symptoms of excessive sweating of the head, slowness in sitting,
crawling and walking, insomnia and bow legs. In adults deficiency can lead to symptoms of
bone pain, muscle weakness and delayed healing of fractures.
Blood levels of calcium are tightly regulated by hormones, including calcitonin and
vitamin D. These hormones control absorption from the intestine, excretion from the kidney
and the rate of bone formation and breakdown. If there is a calcium deficiency calcium is
extracted from the bones to maintain blood levels.
BONES - Osteoporosis, which literally means porous bones is the result of
calcium deficiency and in some cases, can be so severe as to cause the bones to break
under the weight of the body. Particularly badly affected bones include the spinal
vertebrae, the thigh bone and the radius (shorter arm bone). The symptoms of osteoporosis
may be absent until fractures occur although in some cases there may be back pain.
Postmenopausal women are especially prone to osteoporosis although the problem occurs in a
similar way in men. Most of the bone loss seen in osteoporosis occurs in the first 5-6
years after menopause due to a decline in circulating estrogens and an age-related
reduction in vitamin D production.
Getting enough calcium early in life is vital for bones to reach their maximum density so
that they are as strong as possible to support the body even when they lose density later
in life. Studies show that calcium intake in the 11-24 age group is often below the
recommended levels with serious consequences for later life. It is never too late to slow
the bone loss seen in osteoporosis and early postmenopausal years are an important time to
ensure optimal intake.
There may be a genetic component in osteoporosis in addition to behavioral and hormonal
factors. Body weight is the factor most frequently linked to bone mineral density and in
women, body fat may be at least as important as muscle in maintaining bone mineral
Bone loss is found to be up to 11% greater during the night. Calcium levels are also
lowest during the night and may be affected by the concentration of the hormone cortisol.
These findings may offer new hope for the support of osteoporosis.
A synthetic calcitonin nasal spray is available in the US and offers and alternative
support for osteoporosis for women who cannot tolerate the estrogen therapy that is the
conventional support for osteoporosis. Intake of calcium and vitamin D needs also to be
DIGESTIVE SYSTEM - Calcium may also play a role in colon health but further studies are
necessary to confirm the link. Researchers have found that people who eat a lot of calcium
containing foods are less likely to develop colon problems than those who eat small
amounts. Calcium may exert its protective effects by binding to certain colon irritants.
Calcium may also normalize the growth of cells in the intestinal wall thus
protecting the colon.
BLOOD PRESSURE - Calcium deficiency can lead to high blood pressure. Increasing intake has
been shown to lower blood pressure in cases where there are deficiencies. Whether calcium
can lower blood pressure in cases where there are no apparent deficiencies is
MUSCLES - When calcium levels drop below normal, muscle cramps can occur as low levels of
calcium in the blood can increase the sensitivity of the nerves and cause muscles to go
into spasm. Pregnant women whose diets are deficient in calcium are at greatest risk of
TEETH - Calcium's role in tooth development and health are well documented.
Those at risk of calcium deficiency include the elderly, people who dont eat dairy
products, those on high protein or high fiber diets and those who drink a lot of alcohol.
People on weight reducing diets are also at risk as calcium containing foods are often
high in calories. Athletes and premenopausal women whose menstrual periods have stopped
may also be at increased risk of deficiency which can lead to stress fractures, shin
splints, weak bones, poor bone healing and eventually osteoporosis.
Studies have shown that calcium is deficient in the diets of may women with around 35% of
women suffering from osteoporosis after menopause. The average daily intake in the US is
600mg and in many countries calcium is the mineral we are most likely to be deficient in.
Hip fractures cost $10 billion in the US and $175 million per year in Australia.