This article talks about the various functions of calcium in the body and causes for its deficiency. It also describes how calcium is metabolized in the body, and how to obtain it naturally.
Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency
As we grow older and experience frequent muscle cramps and twitch, or numbness in fingers and toes (pins and needles), we are awakened to the declining reserves of calcium in the body, as nerve signaling and muscle contraction are dependent upon adequate supplies of calcium. Similarly, severe menstrual cramps women experience, as also insomnia and a low tolerance for colder climates, can also indicate calcium deficiency. Calcium is also necessary for blood clotting, for regulation of enzyme activity, for a healthy heart and for the growth and maintenance of strong teeth and bones. Since the major source of calcium in the body is bones, the body leaches the bones for the required supply of calcium when it becomes deficient in calcium. Thus, its deficiency results in brittle nails and porous bones that is susceptible to break not by falls alone, but even by a sudden and forceful sneeze.
Reasons for Calcium Deficiency
Calcium is abundantly available in much food. Yet its bio availability depends on finicky details of the levels of many enzymes and minerals in the body. Much of the grains we eat undergo so much processing that the co-nutrients needed for the metabolism of calcium are stripped off. The consumption of pasteurized milk, refined grains, refined sugar, intestinal infections and imbalances, and stress all tend to reduce calcium absorption.
- Age: The body store's calcium in the bones only until the ages of 30-35. Our bones continually undergo a process of remodeling in which old bone is removed and replaced by newly-formed bone. Osteoclast cells break down and remove bone tissue in a process called resorption. This break down can be a response to inflammation, disease, and injury, so that damaged bone can be removed and replaced with new bone. Osteoblasts form new bone tissue in a process called formation. As you age, rate of resorption exceeds the rate of formation, which is how osteoporosis sets in.
- Vitamin D deficiency: The major biologic function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. It promotes bone mineralization in concert with a number of other vitamins, minerals, and hormones. Low levels of Vitamin D can be caused by several factors.
- Liver and kidney diseases: Impaired liver/kidney affect the conversion of the inactive dietary vitamin D to the active form in which both liver and kidney play a part. Vitamin D is made in your body through dermal synthesis done by skin cells in our body called keratinocytes when ultraviolet rays from the sun strike the skin. The endogenously made — vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol — as well as vitamin D obtained from food — D2 (ergosterol)
— are biologically inert form, with limited ability to function as a vitamin. The liver and kidney help convert vitamin D to yield activated forms of D called calcidiol (25-hydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH)D) and calcitriol (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D or 1,25 (OH)2D), respectively. It is this activated form that can form calcium-binding protein needed for the absorption of calcium from the intestines.
- Intestinal Disorders: Vitamin D being fat soluble, people with intestinal disorders that limit absorption of fat can be calcium deficient.
- Insufficient Secretion of Stomach Acid, a condition termed hypochlorhydria commonly found in the elderly, impairs the absorption of calcium.
- Prolonged use of medications or laxatives containing magnesium may also lead to calcium deficiency.
- High-protein diet depletes calcium through excess protein turning into urea in the liver. Urea creates a diuretic action in the kidney, leaching calcium through the urine.
- High intakes of salt (sodium), alcohol, caffeine, or protein cause an increase in the urinary excretion of calcium.
- Soft drinks are high in phosphorus which binds with calcium making it useless to the body.
- Insufficient Magnesium contributes to poor absorption of calcium. Though whole grains contain magnesium, the process of refining the grains strip away magnesium.
- Hormonal Imbalances women experience during pregnancy or menopause leads to calcium deficiency. Hormones secreted by thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal and the sex glands affect the concentration of calcium into the blood stream, and dysfunction of the endocrine glands can alter calcium levels.
- Phytic acid, found in the fibers of whole grains, nuts, and legumes, can bind to calcium to form and insoluble complex, thereby decreasing the absorption of calcium. Soaking and sprouting of the grains helps neutralize the phytic acid in the seeds which inhibits the absorption of nutrients and releases dormant enzymes.
How To Obtain Calcium From Food
- Greens are your best bet to get the requited quota of calcium. Use collard greens, swiss chard, kale, spinach, arugula, radish leaves liberally in salads along with nuts and an assortment of cheese.
Foods highest in magnesium are nuts (especially almonds and cashews), whole grains, seafood, and legumes (including tofu). Eat more of these, while reducing sugar and alcohol, which increase magnesium excretion and decrease calcium absorption.
- Vegetables notably brussel sprouts, tomatoes, cabbage, okra, asparagus, celery, beans, broccoli should be included in your diet as a source of calcium.
- Fruits and dry fruits taste great with any desert, and they add plenty of calcium to the mix. Remember the berries, figs, raisins and prunes.
- It may come as surprise that many spices/herbs are rich in calcium and other complementary minerals. For example, cloves are a good source for manganese, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin K, dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium and calcium, and Cinnamon is an excellent source of manganese, iron, and calcium. Rosemary, oregano, marjoram, thyme, parsley, peppermint, sage, coriander, dill, fennel and garlic not only add to the taste, but make calcium easily assimilable. Use them to flavor curries/pastas/tortilla/burrito fillings, etc.
- Nuts/seeds/beans/legumes are a great source for calcium. Almond tops the list of nuts; but sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chest nuts, and Brazil nuts give calcium along with their nutty flavor. Coconuts and soy beans and related products such tofu and tempeh do their bit to supply us with calcium.
- Last, but not the least, include whole grains and millets. Use brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats or quinoa. They supply balanced cocktail of nutrients along with calcium for good absorption.