What is Calcium?
Chemically speaking calcium is an alkaline earth metal with the symbol Ca and atomic number 20. It is also a mineral present in the human body. 99% of calcium is stored in the body in the teeth and the bones but it is also found in the blood, muscles and fluid between the cells. It is the mineral found in the largest quantities in the body. The presence of this abundant mineral is vital to the proper functioning of the human body.
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Calcium is required for proper muscle contraction, including those within the walls of blood vessels. It is used to secrete hormones and enzymes in the body. Calcium is also needed to send messages to the brain through the nervous system using neurotransmitters. It helps in maintaining a steady heartbeat. It transports ions across the cellular membranes. A number of the body’s functions depend on having enough calcium.
The amount of calcium required by a person depends primarily on the age. Children need more calcium as their skeletal structures are still growing. Older women need to take more calcium as they may be at risk for osteoporosis. Those suffering from certain medical conditions may also be asked to step up their calcium intake.
Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency
Hypocalcemia is the condition defined by having too little calcium in the blood. It often occurs in babies that are barely a few days old. This may be because some formulas with high levels of phosphate are responsible for lowering the levels of blood calcium. Symptoms of hypocalcemia include irritability, muscle twitching, jitters, tremors, lethargy and seizures. Calcium deficiency can occur at any age.
Chronic calcium deficiency can result in rickets, osteoporosis and osteopenia. It may also cause disruptions in the metabolic rate and other bodily dysfunctions such as chest pains, numbness in fingers and toes, muscle cramps, brittle nails, dry skin and tooth decay. Arriving at a formal diagnosis of calcium deficiency is difficult as there are no symptoms except for in severe cases.
Causes of Calcium Deficiency
There may be a number of reasons why the blood calcium levels drop. One is not having enough Vitamin D. Calcium is not absorbed in the body without vitamin D and most people do not sit in the sun long enough for the body to manufacture enough of this vitamin. At least 15 minutes in the sun daily is a must.
Hypoparathyroidism is another reason for calcium deficiency. It can occur post-surgery, or due to an autoimmune disease or even genetic reasons. Renal disease and liver problems may also result in vitamin D deficiency and consequent calcium deficiency.
Other conditions which may cause calcium deficiency include pseudohypoparathyroidism, hypomagnesemia, hypermagnesemia, sclerotic metastases, and Fanconi syndrome. Any illness affecting the thyroid and parathyroid glands will also result in a general mineral deficiency and certainly in calcium deficiency.
How to Make Up for Calcium Deficiency
The first way to avoid calcium deficiency is to ensure that one’s diet contains an adequate quantity of the mineral. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, avocado, okra, collards, and kale are also rich in calcium.
Beans like white beans, soy beans and flat beans are also a good way to add calcium to the diet. Fish like sardines, salmon, perch and rainbow trout are also a good source of the mineral.
If one’s diet does not provide the correct amount of calcium, it may be a good idea to add calcium supplements to the diet. These are available in various combinations off the counter or may be prescribed by the doctor.
Ensure that the supplement meets the daily recommended dosage and does not exceed it. Excess calcium can lead to constipation and to the development of kidney stones. The presence of caffeine, alcohol and extra sodium in the body will decrease the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Daily Recommended Calcium Intake
Age is the main factor in determining the daily intake of calcium. Babies up to 6 months of age should get about 1000 mg of calcium per day. Infants in the 7- to 12-month age range need 1500 mg.
Children up to age of 8 years should consume 2500 mg, while children between 9 to 18 years need 3000 mg of calcium daily. For adults from 19 to 50 years the calcium required is 2500 mg. 51 years and older people need 2000 mg of calcium daily.
There may be a different requirement for special conditions. For example, pregnant women should have at least 2500 mg daily, no matter how old they are. A pregnant teenager, who may have to breastfeed later, will require 3000 mg of calcium daily.
Other medical conditions such as osteoporosis may lead to the need for more calcium supplements in addition to vitamin D to ensure that the body absorbs the calcium from the supplements.