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What is calcium deficiency?

Calcium deficiency is a condition in which the body has an inadequate amount of calcium. Calcium is a mineral that is essential for many aspects of health, including the health of bones and teeth, and a normal heart rhythm. This mineral is also required for muscle contractions and relaxation, nerve and hormone function, and blood pressure regulation.

Calcium must be ingested daily and absorbed effectively in order to maintain optimal health. Most people can get enough calcium by eating a variety of foods rich in calcium. Foods that naturally contain calcium include milk and other dairy products; green, leafy vegetables; seafood; nuts; and dried beans. Calcium is also added to orange juice, breakfast cereals, breads, and other fortified food products.

High dietary calcium intake is necessary for infants, children and adolescents in order to promote bone growth and formation. Pregnant women also have higher calcium needs, because it is required for the normal development of fetal bones. In addition, women who have reached menopause need to ensure an adequate amount of calcium intake to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Types of calcium deficiency

There are two types of calcium deficiency:

  • Dietary calcium deficiency is a condition in which there is an inadequate calcium intake, which can lead to depleted calcium stores in the bones, thinning and weakening of the bones, and osteoporosis. 

  • Hypocalcemia is a low level of calcium in the blood. It can occur from taking medications, such as diuretics; medical treatments; or disease processes, such as renal failure or hypoparathyroidism.

An insufficient amount of calcium in your diet will generally not cause hypocalcemia. This is because normal amounts of calcium in the blood are so critical to many vital body functions of the nerves, muscles, brain and heart, that your body will pull calcium from the bones as needed to maintain normal blood calcium levels. This enables important processes in the body to continue. However, ongoing dietary calcium deficiency can eventually lead to thinning of the bones and osteoporosis because calcium stores in the bones are not replaced as they are used by the body.

Untreated calcium deficiency can lead to serious complications, such as osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), and cardiac arrhythmias. Seek regular medical care and follow your treatment plan to reduce the risk of serious complications from calcium deficiency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have chest pain, a seizure, difficulty breathing, or an unusual change in alertness or consciousness.

Medical Reviewers: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Review Date: Aug 1, 2013

© 2014 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Calcium. Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health.
  2. Calcium in Diet. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  3. Calcium, Dietary. American Heart Association.

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