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Calcium & Calcium Deficiency

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body... Are you getting enough?

The major function of calcium is to act in cooperation with phosphorus to build and maintain healthy bones and teeth. Another important function is the storage of the mineral in the bones for use by the body. The calcium state of the bones is constantly fluctuating according to the diet and to the body's needs. About 99% is deposited in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1% is involved in the soft tissues, intracellular fluids and blood.

As well as compromising the health of your teeth and bones, low levels of calcium can increase the risk of hypertension or high blood pressure. Severe calcium deficiency can lead to abnormal heart beat, dementia and convulsions.

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Symptoms of a Calcium Deficiency...

Calcium deficiencies are wide spread in human society with only a third to a half of the necessary requirements, being consumed.

Tetany - One of the first symptoms of a calcium deficiency is a nervous affliction called Tetany, which is characterised by muscle cramps, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs.

Osteoporosis - Another calcium deficiency ailment is Osteoporosis, in which the bones become porous and fragile because calcium is withdrawn from the bones and other areas faster than it is deposited in them.

Other symptoms - Moderate cases of calcium deficiency may lead to:

  • Cramps
  • Joint pains
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Slow pulse rates
  • Insomnia
  • Impaired growth
  • Excessive irritability or nerves
  • Brittle nails
  • Eczema
  • Numbness or tingling of the arms and/or legs


Some of these symptoms are also common with a Magnesium Deficiency.

A calcium deficiency may also be due to a lack of Vitamin D or abnormal concentrations of hormones that regulate the availability from the bones to the blood, not to a dietary inadequacy.

Who is at risk of Calcium Deficiency…

Age - All humans lose bone density starting between the ages of 30 and 40. Excessive bone loss affects over 20 million people, mostly women who are 45 and older. A good accumulation of calcium in the bones at early stages in life is the best prevention of age related bone loss and fractures.

When there is not enough calcium absorbed in the body, the output of estrogen decreases. As is the case with postmenopausal women, older men are often deficient in calcium.

Medication / Diet - Other people who may be at risk for deficiencies are those who use antacids that contain aluminium; those who are alcohol drinkers; those on diets that are low calorie, high protein, or high fibre; those who are lactose intolerant; those who use cortisone; women who are pregnant and those who are basically inactive.

High tannin intake - Drinking tannin rich beverages such as tea, green tea, leafy herbal teas, red wine, coffee and chocolate for up to 1 hour after a meal can interfere with the absorption of calcium from the meal or foods they are consuming.

Calcium is used by your body…

  • Bones & Teeth - In the development and maintenance of bone structure and rigidity.
  • Blood – Calcium is essential for healthy blood and its delicate messenger ions help regulate the heartbeat. In addition, calcium assists in the process of blood clotting and helps prevent the accumulation of too much acid or too much alkali in the blood.
  • Heart - Along with calcium, magnesium is needed to properly maintain the cardiovascular system.
  • It functions in the clotting process, nerve transmission and muscle stimulation, parathyroid hormone function and metabolism of Vitamin D, to name a few.
  • Hormones - Calcium also plays a part in secretion of hormones. It affects neurotransmitters, nerve transmission, muscle growth and muscle contraction. The mineral acts as a messenger from the cell surface to the inside of the cell and helps regulate the passage of nutrients in and out of the cell walls. Calcium aids in the body's utilisation of iron and helps activate several digestive enzymes.

What health problems can Calcium help with?

Calming - Calcium is a natural tranquilliser and tends to calm the nerves when taken 20-40 minutes before bedtime it promotes a deep sleep. Those who "jump at sudden sounds" are usually in desperate need of extra calcium in their diet.

Immunity - The production of energy and the maintenance of the immune system benefit from calcium.

Cardiovascular - By lowering cholesterol, calcium is thought to be beneficial in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders. Calcium supplements up to 1500mg have lowered blood pressure in people with or without hypertension and are though to do so because of the condition of the smooth muscle that surrounds the blood vessels.

Arthritis - Structural rigidity often caused by depletion of bone calcium, may be helped with regular supplements of calcium. Early supplementation may help prevent Arthritis. Rheumatism may also be helped positively with calcium therapy.

Supplementation may help prevent bone fractures in postmenopausal women who already have osteoporosis. The hormones involved are stimulated by the concentration of calcium ions in the blood.

Menopause - Problems associated with menopause such as nervousness, irritability, insomnia and headaches have been overcome with administration of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D.

PMS - Prevention of premenstrual tension and menstrual cramps has also been noticed.

It also helps "growing pains".

Calcium absorption can be very inefficient…

Only 20 to 30% of ingested calcium is absorbed. Women after menopause frequently absorb as little as 7%. About 100 to 200 milligrams is filtered through the blood and excreted in the urine. Another 125 to 180 mg is excreted in the faeces. Some is lost in sweat but only when there is illness or extreme physical activity in dry, hot environments.

Absorption takes place in the duodenum and ceases in the lower part of the intestinal tract when food content becomes alkaline. It is more efficient to take calcium in smaller doses several times a day and at night before bedtime, which also promotes a sound sleep. Always take away from tannin rich beverages, to help ensure maximum absorption.

Many other factors influence the actual amount of calcium absorbed. When in need, the body absorbs calcium more effectively; therefore the greater the need and the smaller the dietary supply, the more efficient the absorption. Absorption is also increased during rapid periods of growth.

Substances that interfere with the absorption of Calcium:

  • When excess amounts of fat, protein or sugar combine with calcium, an insoluble compound is formed which cannot be absorbed.
  • Insufficient Vitamin D intake or excess phosphorus and magnesium hinders the absorption of calcium.
  • Oxalic acid found in chocolate, spinach, beet greens, swiss chard, soy beans, almonds, cashews, kale and rhubarb, when combined with calcium, make another insoluble compound which may form into stones in the kidney or gall bladder. A typical diet should not cause this to happen.
  • Large amounts of phytic acid present in unleavened grains may also inhibit absorption by the body.
  • Other interfering factors include lack of exercise, physical and emotional stress, excitement, depression and too rapid a flow of food through the intestinal tract. Even moderate exercise encourages absorption.
  • The parathyroid glands in the neck help adjust the body's storage of calcium. If these glands are not functioning properly, accumulation may occur. The remedy for this situation is to renew the proper function of the parathyroid glands, rather than to cut down on the intake.
  • Calcium needs acid for proper assimilation. If acid in some form is not present in the body, the mineral will not be dissolved and therefore cannot be used as needed by the body. Instead it may build up in tissues or joints as deposits, leading to a variety of disturbances.
  • Drugs affecting absorption include caffeine, diuretics, fatty acids, fibre oxalates, glucocorticoids, fluoride, losec, Mylanta, protein, thyroxine.

Other nutrients are required for Calcium to be properly absorbed in the body…

Absorption depends upon the presence of adequate amounts of Vitamin D, which works with the parathyroid hormone to regulate the amount of calcium in the blood. Phosphorus is needed in the same amount but should not exceed the exact amount of calcium. The body uses them together to give firmness to the bones. If excess amounts of either mineral is taken, that excess cannot be used efficiently.

In a typical western diet containing too little calcium and too much phosphorus (owing to popular food items such as soft drink, processed foods like meats, cheese and other conveyance foods) bone loss may result. Vitamins A & C are also necessary for absorption. Fat content in moderate amounts, moving slowly through the digestive tract, helps facilitate absorption as does bile and bile salts.

To function properly, Calcium must be accompanied by magnesium, phosphorus, boron and the Vitamins A,C,D, K and possibly E. Zinc and selenium are missing in our New Zealand soils, so these should also be contained in the calcium formula.

Adding 1 tablespoon of unpasteurised Apple Cider Vinegar to 100ml of tepid water and taking calcium with this, will help with a better absorption of this mineral. This vinegar must contain "the mother" which is usually clearly stated on the label.

There are different types of Calcium and some are better than others…

  • Bone meal contains absorbable calcium but may also be contaminated with lead.
  • Calcium chloride may be irritating to the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Calcium Phosphate interferes with the absorption of other nutrients when it is included in a multi supplement. This form may not be listed on the label.
  • Both calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate - not the easiest to absorb, are found in dolomite. Calcium carbonate should be taken with meals, especially for those who are over 60 years of age.
  • Calcium gluconate, calcium lactate and calcium citrate are the best absorbed but they are lower in strength.
  • A supplement should dissolve at room temperature in vinegar within ½ an hour. 

Can you have too much Calcium?

When the concentration of calcium is too high, hormones and vitamin D make sure that calcium is deposited in its storage place in the bones.

When it is too low, the imbalance is corrected in several ways: In the kidneys, which slows excretion; In the bones, which control the release of needed amounts: And in the intestine, which encourages absorption. Calcium stored in the bones supplies the bloodstream, which is unaffected by dietary or food intake. However a chronic dietary deficiency will diminish the stores of the bones after a number of years.

If the intake of calcium is too high, magnesium levels also need to be high. Too little magnesium results in calcium accumulations in the muscles, heart and kidneys. Too much calcium can interfere with the functions of the nervous and muscular systems. An excess amount in the blood causes calcium rigour, which is characterised by muscles that contract and cannot relax. When an excess is added to blood plasma, coagulation does not take place. Too much calcium will also decrease the body's absorption of zinc and iron.

How much Calcium do you need?

Check Leanne James Calcium Chart for the suggested amount of calcium you require. Remember that with age, it seems that the requirement for calcium increases because of a reduced rate of absorption as well as a lessening desire to eat calcium rich foods.

Supplementation of up to 2000 mg of calcium a day is considered safe.

Calcium Supplements can help with the following;

Arthritis, back ache, cramps, bone pain, high blood pressure, lead toxicity or exposure, menopausal women, menstrual cramps, osteoporosis, psychiatric disorders, nerve transmission, blood clotting, bone and tooth formation, muscle contraction, hormone secretion, brittle fingernails, agitation, cognitive impairment, convulsions, delusions, depression, eczema, heart palpitations, hyperactivity, hypertension, insomnia, irritability, laryngospasm, limb numbness, muscle cramps, periodontal disease, rickets, stunted growth, tetany, tooth decay.

What calcium supplements do Ideal Health stock?

We stock a lot of different calcium supplements. For example we have

Ethi Cal High Strength Tablet. May assist in the prevention and treatment of Osteoporosis

Ethi Cal Bone Builder Vitamin D Powder. A powdered version of the above product. Suitable for those 1 year and older.

Radiance Mineral Power: A multi mineral formula.

Natures Sunshine Calcium Magnesium. A calcium supplement with co factors, as well as SynerPro Concentrate.

Natures Sunshine Liquid Calcium. Ideal for children or those who cannot swallow tablets.

Nutralife Super Calcium Complete. With Hydroxyapatite for helping to increase bone density.

Radiance Kids Bone. Chewable tablets containing calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and Boron.

If you heard about the controversy with taking calcium supplements, read the full news item here.

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The Naturopathic Team
Ideal Health

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered and is intended to be used for educational and general information purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or as a means to diagnose, treat, cure or prescribe for any particular condition or disease. You assume all responsibility for the treatment which may be undertaken as a result of the information on this site, or treatment recommended by any other party. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.

If you need help or advice, please email our naturopathic team with your health question.  Please allow 48 hours for a response.

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