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Calcium is a wonderful element as far as the human body is concerned. If not present in the right proportions it can make the body weak and prone to accidents. The benefits of having adequate calcium in our body have been quite well documented. Calcium helps us maintain the strength of our bones. A strong set of bones is something we need just to be able to stand erect, so that tells us the importance of calcium for us. We have all heard of bone deficiencies like osteoporosis and osteopenia which occur due to lack of calcium. For women, calcium helps to control symptoms of PMS and also helps prevent breast cancer. In case the Calcium levels fall below the minimum required, our body is smart enough to let us know in time. Here are some messages we might get from our body to signal low calcium levels :
12 Signs and Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency or Hypocalcemia
1. Brittle Bones:
Those who suffer from fractured bones at the proverbial drop of a hat might be having less calcium in their bones than is required. Many of us suffer from falls which cause some scratches, aches and pain, but not anything further. But those with lesser calcium would break their bones in such situations. Another manifestation of low calcium is found in women, especially after attaining a certain age, is the bone disease called osteoporosis.
2. Disturbed Sleep Cycle:
Many people associate poor sleeping habits with the stress in their lives, but they are usually unaware of an interesting function of calcium in our bodies. Calcium is used in the manufacture of a substance called melatonin. This is a hormone that induces sleep, and if you have low calcium, you are able to produce less melatonin. That is why you suffer from disturbed sleep at night and feel lethargic and sleepy during the daytime.
3. Neural Imbalances:
Calcium also has an important role to play in the smooth functioning of the human body’s nervous system. When you have less calcium in your body, it is first used up by your bones and teeth, leaving less calcium for the body’s neural functions. You would report occasional hallucinations, short-term memory losses, lack of mental control on situations, and even symptoms of clinical depression.
4. Vascular Functions and Hypertension:
These are two areas of human functioning that we usually associate with our diet, lifestyle, exercise etc., which are said to affect our heart and the blood pressure functions. But it is a fact that calcium plays an important role in both these situations. Your blood pressure is regulated by calcium, so an irregular heartbeat and hypertension/hypotension can be attributed to lowered calcium levels in the body. You can make this out by an accelerated heartbeat, sudden bouts of dizziness and feeling faint.
5. Tingling Fingers:
People who have a pronounced calcium deficiency usually get early warning signs when their hands and the ends of their fingers tingle. Internally the reason for this happening is because the muscles and nerves in hand become more excitable than usual. This situation is referred to as neuromuscular irritability. The advantage of this symptom is that it occurs pretty early unlike some of the other manifestations of low calcium mentioned in this article. That’s why if you take note of it early and initiate corrective action, you can turn things around before it is too late.
6. Muscle Spasms:
This symptom of low calcium is linked to the neuromuscular irritability mentioned earlier. But the tingling fingers are early stage indicators. When the deficit of calcium is quite high, you might suffer from cramps in your muscles, and might even get occasional twitches and spasms, called tetany. If you are not convinced or very sure what to make out from these symptoms, you can test yourself with the Trousseau sign. For this, you need to clamp a blood pressure cuff on your arms and then inflate it to restrict the blood flow gradually and finally constrict blood flow completely. If your hand begins to twitch, it is a sure sign of calcium deficiency.
7. Weak Nails:
You don’t need to actually wait to break a bone to understand that you suffer from calcium deficiency. When your body’s calcium count goes down, your nails begin to turn dry. The nails would be chipped or broken more easily. Even your hair would provide signals. If you notice a slower rate of growth of your hair, you should understand that you are running low on calcium. The common hair disorder called alopecia (in which your hair falls off in clumps) is also a symptom of calcium shortage.
8. Teeth and Mouth:
We have already talked about how bones, teeth and hair can indicate low calcium content to you well in advance. Another set of useful indicators are our teeth. Calcium deficiency not only weakens your teeth but it also affects the overall oral hygiene. Many people are unable to grasp the significance of these signals and usually attribute them to poor oral hygiene. But the cavities, brittle teeth and weak roots of the teeth are often due to low calcium in the body.
We spoke earlier about the role of calcium in the production of melatonin. This hormone regulates our sleep cycles. And lower production of melatonin keeps us awake longer at night. This insomnia affects the daytime functioning of the body, leading to a feeling of light-headedness and lack of focus. The memory loss and apparent lack of energy are usually attributed to other physiological and psychological factors, and often the shortage of calcium fails to get detected.
10. Impaired Eyesight:
We spoke of the impact of low calcium on the neurological functions of the body. We also saw how the blood pressure control is impaired due to low calcium levels in the body. This leads to a lot of pressure being exerted on the optic nerve which connects the brain to the eye. As a result, you might have slightly blurred vision. This blurry vision can lead to the sensation of seeing multiple images, and you might also lose the peripheral vision in your eyes.
11. Poor Skin Quality:
This is another area in which we usually do not associate with calcium shortage in our body. The symptoms are similar to the effect of low calcium on hair and nails we discussed earlier. The skin too becomes dry and itchy. People with a widespread shortage of calcium in their bodies have reported the development of psoriasis or eczema as well. Eczema causes blisters and redness on the affected parts of the skin and needs to be treated with the right medicines. Psoriasis turns the affected parts of the skin red and covers it with scales silver in colour.
12. Pre Menstrual Syndrome:
Every month, women face a unique set of physical discomforts and mental manifestations of stress just before their menstruation cycle is about to begin. Women are known to face a number of problems because of the lower calcium retention of their bodies. It has not been reported that even PMS is made more painful because of the effects of lower calcium. Women report feeling less hungry during this period, but they feel more tired and even depressed.
Whether it is medical experts or their patients, most of the attention and conversations around necessary nutrients centre on carbohydrates, vitamins, proteins and the like. But hardly any attention is paid to calcium. As we saw in this article, the body informs us about an impending shortage of calcium in many ways. It is up to us to take those signals seriously and restore the balance of calcium in our body by consuming calcium rich foods. As we saw in this article, if we do not take those warnings seriously, we would see adverse effects in areas we have never associated with calcium deficiency. We must pay as much attention to calcium as we do to other nutrients and avoid complications due to an acute calcium deficiency.
Something many people aren’t aware of is that too much calcium/hpercalcemia might sometimes be a bad thing. They take calcium supplements thinking it would protect their bodies from calcium deficit. But these calcium supplements might have some nasty side effects. Simple things that might cause discomfort are constipation or formation of gas or a bloating in the stomach. On a longer term, use of calcium supplements might cause kidney stones to form. Calcium supplements might interact negatively with other medications that you are taking for other problems. And finally, whether from natural sources or from supplements, extra calcium in the body might give you the feeling of a dry mouth, and might cause irregular heartbeats, nausea and also a pain in the abdomen.
As long as we do not overdose on calcium by taking too many calcium supplements, we can continue taking the required doses of calcium-based foods.