Mar 25 2023
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, yet it is also one of the nutrients that modern people often lack. Calcium deficiency can cause osteoporosis and other health issues, so it is important to include sufficient amounts of calcium intake in the daily diet.
Calcium Deficiency Leads to Osteoporosis and Night Cramps
Calcium serves not only as a critical building block for bones and teeth, but it also plays a vital role in blood clotting, strengthening the nervous system, regulating heart rhythm, facilitating muscle contraction, promoting emotional stability, and preventing insomnia.
Calcium is predominantly stored in bones and teeth, making up 99 percent of the body’s calcium, with the remaining 1 percent distributed throughout the rest of the body. Bones serve as the body’s calcium reservoir. According to Dr. Chen Yitzu, an attending physician at Rong-Xin Orthopedic Clinic, when blood calcium levels drop, the parathyroid hormone and vitamin D will stimulate the release of calcium from bones to maintain a balance in the blood. Long-term calcium deficiency in the blood can lead to osteoporosis and other health issues.
Common symptoms of calcium deficiency are:
- Night cramps
Chen pointed out that knee pain or other body aches can often be mistaken as a symptom of osteoporosis. However, this disease is usually asymptomatic and may only be discovered during a health checkup or after a fracture has occurred.
People who are deficient in calcium may also experience anxiety and insomnia. However, similar symptoms can also be caused by a deficiency in potassium, as both calcium and potassium are important elements for stabilizing the nerves.
If a person experiences night leg cramps, it is likely due to a calcium deficiency. Chen explained that after a day of walking and the effect of gravity, metabolic waste can accumulate in the calves, which, when combined with a lack of calcium, can cause nerve instability and cramping at night. For those experiencing these symptoms, it is recommended to have a bone density checkup at the hospital, as it may indicate osteoporosis.
4 Types of People Prone to Calcium Deficiency
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, increasing bone density by 10 percent during youth can delay the onset of osteoporosis by 13 years (pdf). Hence, individuals of all ages should maintain their bone health through a balanced diet. Four types of individuals should be particularly mindful of their calcium intake:
1. Elderly: Bone density typically peaks between the ages of 20 and 30, and gradually declines thereafter. The older one gets, the more bone mass one loses.
2. Menopausal women: After menopause, bone loss speeds up due to the decrease in hormones.
3. Patients with thyroid and parathyroid disorders: The thyroid and parathyroid glands are responsible for regulating the levels of calcium and phosphate ions in the body. Both overactivity and under-activity of these glands can lead to calcium loss in the blood.
4. Patients with kidney disease: Declining kidney function can lead to phosphate buildup in the blood. This triggers the parathyroid gland to secrete more hormones to eliminate the excess phosphate, but the increased levels of parathyroid hormones will then lead to calcium loss in the bones.
Key Nutrients for Calcium Absorption: Vitamins C and D
Calcium is present in many foods, and some examples of calcium-rich foods include fresh milk, beans, dried bean curd, tofu, dark green vegetables, nuts, and more.
Chang I-Ting, a nutritionist from Cofit Healthcare Inc., pointed out that drinking a glass of milk before bed can help relax the mind and promote better sleep due to the calcium content. Furthermore, the growth hormone secreted during sleep can also aid in the absorption of calcium.
In addition to consuming high-calcium foods, it is also important to consume two major nutrients that can enhance the body’s absorption of calcium.
Eating fruits or drinking juices that are rich in vitamin C, such as guava, kiwi, papaya, tomatoes, strawberries, and citrus fruits, after meals can enhance calcium absorption. This is because the acidic nature of these fruits aids in the absorption rate of calcium.
When ingested, calcium requires the assistance of vitamin D3 in the stomach to penetrate the gastric mucosa and enter the bloodstream. If there is a deficiency of vitamin D3, even consuming a large amount of calcium will not help, as it cannot be absorbed in the stomach and will instead be excreted through the small intestine.
People who regularly expose themselves to sunlight and have normal liver and kidney function can synthesize vitamin D3 on their own, and therefore will not experience a deficiency. However, in modern times, people often have limited exposure to sunlight or experience a decrease in liver and kidney function as they age, and both things can negatively impact the synthesis of vitamin D3.
In addition to getting moderate sun exposure, consuming foods that are rich in vitamin D, such as salmon, egg yolks, and buckwheat is also necessary to enhance the efficacy of calcium.
Chen mentioned that magnesium is also a crucial nutrient that needs to be taken into account. People may assume they do not have osteoporosis because their blood calcium levels appear normal during health checkups, but that is not necessarily the case. She explained that although magnesium deficiency is not directly linked to osteoporosis, maintaining a 2:1 calcium-to-magnesium ratio in the blood is crucial, as long-term magnesium deficiency can lead to calcium loss. Some calcium supplements on the market now not only contain vitamin D3, but also trace amounts of magnesium ions
- Foods high in salt: Avoid excessively salty meals and processed foods with high sodium content.
- High-protein foods: Consuming too much protein, such as meat, which also contains high amounts of phosphorus, can cause an imbalance in the calcium-phosphorus ratio and lead to poor calcium absorption.
- High-fat foods: Excessively oily meals can interfere with calcium absorption, as the calcium may bind with the fats.
- Oxalate and caffeine-containing beverages: Consumption of oxalate and caffeine can reduce the absorption rate of calcium. Examples of such beverages include strong tea, coffee, carbonated drinks, and energy drinks. Therefore, it is recommended to wait at least one hour after a meal before consuming these beverages and avoid excessive consumption.