We all know that calcium is important for women and if we don’t take enough by drinking milk, eating calcium tablets etc. our bones will become weak and break.
This is literally drummed into us from a young age but still, there are yawning gaps in our knowledge about calcium and its deficiency.
We don’t know, for instance, what the recommended daily dose of this mineral is and how do we ensure that we are getting enough. Another gap in our knowledge about calcium is that it causes only weak bones…
Read on for the most definitive, complete, and usable information about calcium and calcium deficiency in women, so that you can take steps to prevent a deficiency and live healthily.
A compelling argument for optimum calcium levels in women
Our bodies use calcium to build strong bones and teeth and also to stabilize blood pressure and control skeletal muscle contraction. This means that calcium is crucial for the heart and other muscles to function properly.
The fact is that calcium is crucial for women’s bone health as we require more calcium than men, especially as we grow older.
Our bones contain crystals of calcium phosphate and these account for approximately 70 percent of bone weight which is why calcium is considered to be the most important nutrient for good bone health.
A deficiency in calcium makes our bones lighter and more prone to bone diseases like osteoporosis, osteopenia or a calcium deficiency disease.
Calcium deficiency in women
Calcium deficiency has become really a big threat to women’s health in the last couple of decades as our diets have changed and have become partial to processed and packaged foods. Whole foods full of calcium have just about disappeared.
In India, calcium deficiency is becoming significantly higher in urban as well as rural women.
A study conducted by a Ludhiana hospital showed recently that 20% of adolescent girls in the age group of 14 -17 suffer from calcium deficiency.
Such a high calcium deficiency was earlier seen only in elderly and pregnant women.
Factors that contribute to a calcium deficiency in women
Hormonal changes in older women
In general, women are more prone to calcium deficiency. This deficiency peaks in menopausal women around 45 to 50 years old. The reason for this is the decreased levels of the female hormone estrogen.
This hormone plays a vital role in calcium metabolism as it inhibits bone-degrading cell activity by reducing their number. The decline in the hormone estrogen during menopause also causes a woman’s bones to thin faster.
Another way estrogen helps is by making the body hold more calcium in the body indirectly by promoting enzymes that create cholecalciferol or activated vitamin D which helps in calcium absorption from the intestines.
(Read more about vitamin D and its role in women’s health and how to get enough here)
This is the reason menopausal women should increase their calcium intake to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and calcium deficiency disease.
The risk for osteoporosis also goes up if a woman experiences irregular periods or started having her periods at a later age or have had their ovaries removed at any age. The risk also climbs exponentially if a woman undergoes a premature menopause, which is happening a lot these days.
A diet poor in calcium
Calcium-rich foods are dairy products like milk and yoghurt and sesame seeds. Calcium deficiency disease is caused due to malabsorption as well as malnutrition. Malabsorption of calcium occurs when your body can’t absorb the calcium you need from the food you eat.
A poor calcium intake over a long period of time, especially in childhood will lead to a calcium deficiency in the forties in most women.
The hormone disorder hypoparathyroidism may also cause calcium deficiency disease.
This condition stops the production of enough parathyroid hormone which controls calcium levels in the blood.
Medications that decrease calcium absorption like corticosteroids and drugs used to treat elevated calcium levels
Disorders caused due to too much magnesium or alternatively too little magnesium in your blood
Calcium absorption is tied up with vitamin D levels and also levels of magnesium. Any shift in this delicate balance, and wham! One has a deficiency.
Women are at an increased risk for calcium deficiency as they age.
A dietary intolerance to calcium-rich foods and genetic factors also contribute to low calcium in a woman’s body.
So how do you know if you are calcium-deficient and the impact of a deficiency
The calcium story goes beyond the harm done to your bones and teeth.
Not many of us know this that a calcium deficiency affects almost all the parts of the body.
A few symptoms of a calcium deficiency are:
Confusion or memory loss
Numbness or tingling in hands, feet or face
Muscle spasms and cramps
Depression and hallucinations
Slower hair growth
Impact of a calcium deficiency
A calcium deficiency can cause abnormal heartbeat, eye damage and spinal fractures apart from other bone fractures.
It is also a cause of widespread disability and can cause difficulty in walking in older women.
If left untreated, calcium deficiency can eventually be fatal.
It can also cause several significant health issues like:
Calcium is directly related to the sleep cycle. Its levels rise and fall as you sleep, with higher levels occurring during deep REM sleep.
Calcium has a major role to play in the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
Hence, if one is unable to achieve deep sleep, it’s most often than not, related to a calcium deficiency. Studies have also confirmed that normal sleep cycles were restored when calcium levels were increased to normal.
2. Difficulty dropping weight
The calcium stored in fat cells in the body help in regulating the storage of fat. And it’s been shown that fat cells that contain the most calcium actually burn more fat.
This is the term for a whole range of frustrating issues that lots of women are living with. Paresthesia is not a disease but a symptom of a nervous system that is not functioning properly and is experienced as tingling, numbness, muscle tremors, and an impaired sense of touch.
It can happen due to a calcium deficiency as low calcium in the blood has been connected to neurological impairment. This also causes confusion, poor memory, hallucinations, as well as muscle tremors and twitches.
How to prevent calcium deficiency in women
Recommended Dietary Allowance or RDA for calcium is a very important piece of information for preventing calcium deficiency for women.
The RDA for adult women is around 1000 mg /dl, whereas for older or pregnant women it is around 1200 mg/dl.
Girls in the 9 – 18 age group require 1300 mg of calcium as they are in the growth spurt phase.
And, women over the age of 50 require 1200 mg of calcium.
Women can keep themselves safe from bone diseases and calcium deficiency disease by including more calcium-rich foods in their diet. Milk and milk products are among the best sources of calcium. While milk is a good source of calcium, yoghurt is considered to be a healthier option as it is easier to digest and richer in bio-available calcium.
Cheese is also a good source of the mineral.
In addition to milk products, oily fish like sardines are a good source of calcium too and so are eggs.
Green vegetables like spinach are also a good source of calcium. Spinach is also a great source of magnesium which is needed for calcium absorption.
Sesame seeds contain a decent amount of calcium too.
Other things one can do to up their calcium levels are to hang out in the sun more without sunblock. This will make one’s body make more vitamin D which in turn will allow them to absorb calcium efficiently from food.
One also has to take a magnesium–rich diet to make enough of a hormone called calcitonin which draws calcium out of the blood and back into the bones, preventing bone loss in women.
If nothing works, the thing to do is to consult a doctor and go for supplementation with her express advice only.