Are There Any Telltale Signs That You’re Not Getting Enough Calcium?

The short answer from a rheumatologist
Older woman slicing cheese

Q: How can I know if I’m getting enough calcium? Are there any symptoms of calcium deficiency?

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A: Both calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone health. The body needs calcium for other functions as well, including those involving muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and the release of hormones and enzymes. You need to get enough calcium, which comes from food and is stored in the bones and teeth.

While it’s possible to get a blood test to determine your vitamin D level to see if you might be deficient, there’s no such test for calcium. That’s because when lacking enough calcium for basic function, the body takes it from bone, which keeps calcium levels normal.

There generally are no obvious symptoms (at least in the short term) from not consuming enough calcium. Over time, low calcium intake can have detrimental effects on different body systems, including contributing to low bone mass and risk for osteoporosis. A severe calcium deficiency can produce symptoms, such as numbness and tingling in the fingers, convulsions and abnormal heart rhythm.

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To ensure you’re getting enough calcium, consume the recommended amount. Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese) are plentiful sources. Other sources include canned salmon and sardines with bones, kale, collards, broccoli, bok choy, almonds and sesame seeds. Some foods are fortified with calcium.

All adults age 19 to 50 and men up to age 70 should get 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Women age 51 and older and men age 71 and older need 1,200 mg a day. If you’re not getting this much from food, you can take a supplement. There is no need to exceed the recommended daily allowance for calcium since your body will simply eliminate the excess calcium.

— Rheumatologist Chad Deal, MD

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