When you think of calcium, bone health is probably the first (and last) thing that comes to mind. But calcium is responsible for much more than just our bones. It helps keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check, regulates our heartbeat and ensures our muscles can relax properly.
In the U.S., 81% of adolescent girls are not getting enough calcium from their diet. Among adults, 43% also run low on this nutrient. These stats are worrisome considering the role of calcium in the body. Kids with low calcium intake could run into growth issues; adults run the risk of osteoporosis, plus other major complications.
Calcium deficiency—or hypocalcemia, as your know-it-all friend calls it—can also mess with the potassium, magnesium and phosphorus levels in your bloodstream.
Suffice to say, you really do need calcium. And if you’re experiencing any of these nine symptoms, you might not be getting enough of it.
- A recurring pins-and-needles sensation around your toes and fingers is a clear warning sign. Some people could also feel a tingling sensation on their face.
- Muscle and abdominal cramps are also common among those suffering from a calcium deficiency. If your legs and back are getting cramped on a regular basis, this could lead to spasms. This happens because calcium is responsible for muscle tenderness; a lack of it causes painful contractions.
- Brittle nails are another sign that your calcium could be in short supply. If your nails chip easily and/or your hair starts feeling rougher than usual, you should visit a physician as soon as possible. Low levels of calcium have also been linked to itchy skin.
- An overall feeling of lethargy has been linked to calcium inadequacy. If you get tired easily or have trouble sleeping well, this could lead to other symptoms such as lightheadedness, forgetfulness and lack of focus.
- PMS fatigue and pain above and beyond what you usually experience could be another signal that you need more calcium. A study found that women who received calcium treatment experienced fewer mood swings and appetite fluctuations, and less tiredness when compared with the placebo group.
- Oral diseases like bleeding gums, tooth decay and bad breath can be brought on when the body starts drawing calcium from your teeth because it’s running low in your bloodstream.
- Lactose intolerance could contribute to calcium deficiency since dairy products are among the foods highest in calcium. Vegans can run into the same problem, as a lack of natural calcium needs to be restored either through sea vegetables or supplements if you’re not getting dairy in your diet.
- Vitamin D deficiency, which a whopping 75% of Americans experience, reduces absorption of calcium and can quickly lead to other not-so-pleasant health issues. A study conducted over 20 years found calcium and Vitamin D potentially reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 33%.
- Being prone to physical injuries like sprains and fractures is no fun. It can also be a sign that your body’s calcium levels have dropped. In the long run, chronic back ache and fractures in the wrist and hip are symptoms of osteoporosis.
Generally, experts advise that you take 1,000 mg daily if you’re younger than 50 and 1,200 mg if you’re older than 50. Any nutritionist will tell you that it’s best to stick to natural sources of calcium. Broccoli, kale, salmon and sardines (with bones) and sesame seeds are all high in calcium. One cup of raw milk has about 300 mg of calcium. But if for you can’t meet dietary requirements for some reason, you should think about supplements.
Supplementing your calcium
While Europe was the leading market for dietary supplements in 2016, America wasn’t far behind with 28% of the share. Out of all the mineral supplements popular in the U.S., calcium sits at the top of the list along with iron.
But calcium supplements are a bit more complicated than other vitamins. You need to consume calcium supplements according to clinically-advised dosages so that your body doesn’t develop hypercalcemia, a condition where too much calcium overexerts your kidney and may even induce nausea and vomiting.
Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are two of the most popular supplements because of their high elemental mineral content. If your required dosage is more than 500 mg a day, make sure there’s a long gap between doses, and consume them along with your meals. If you’re thinking of increasing calcium content through a protein powder, three scoops of whey contains 600 mg of calcium.
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t start popping calcium supplements without discussing it with your doctor. A better route could be to consider a high-quality whey protein powder, which contains calcium and doesn’t put you at risk like some calcium supplements have been shown to do.