How to Increase Your Calcium Levels

Calcium is one of the essential minerals required by our body to maintain its structure and function. Almost 99% of the calcium in our body is stored in our bones and teeth. Calcium plays a key role in maintaining the strength of bones and teeth over time. Aside from that, it also carries out various muscle and nerve functions, regulates the pH of blood, and helps in blood clotting.

Between the ages of 11 and 15, the bones develop rapidly, and while doing so, they store calcium. In case the calcium requirement of our body is not met, the mineral is withdrawn from our bones, which can sometimes make them weak. Hence, to smoothen the development of our bones, it is imperative to include calcium in our diet.

We lose a little calcium daily through our urine, feces, hair, skin, and sweat. This loss is not reversed by the body as our body cannot make its own calcium. This is the reason why calcium from external sources has to be consumed.

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The daily recommended amount of calcium required by people according to their age and sex is given in the following table.

Age Group Male Female
0 to 6 months 200 mg/day 200 mg/day
7 to 12 months 260 mg/day 260 mg/day
1 to 3 years 700 mg/day 700 mg/day
4 to 8 years 1,000 mg/day 1,000 mg/day
9 to 18 years 1,300 mg/day 1,300 mg/day
19 to 50 years 1,000 mg/day 1,000 mg/day
51 to 70 years 1,000 mg/day 1,200 mg/day
71+ years 1,200 mg/day 1,200 mg/day

Causes of Low Calcium Levels

The low levels of calcium in the body can be due to a number of reasons. Some of them are:

  • Decreased levels of vitamin D.
  • Deficiency of vitamin D during kidney failure.
  • Low blood protein levels, especially a low level of albumin, because of liver diseases or malnutrition. With low albumin, the bound calcium level decreases and the ionized calcium levels remain normal.
  • Surgical removal of the parathyroid glands.
  • Inherited resistance to the effects of the parathyroid hormone.
  • Hypoparathyroidism (underactive parathyroid gland).
  • Extreme calcium deficiency primarily through dietary sources.

Signs and Symptoms of Low Calcium Levels

The signs and symptoms of low calcium include:

  • Numbness or tingling in the feet, hands, and/or mouth
  • Jitteriness and tremors
  • Painful muscle spasms and cramps
  • Twitching of muscles
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss (severe cases)
  • Depression

Calcium deficiency can gradually lead to the thinning and weakening of the bones, resulting in osteoporosis in the long run.

Medical Treatment for Low Calcium Levels

The standard treatment to relieve the signs and symptoms of low calcium includes the following:

  • If you observe any symptoms associated with calcium deficiency, seek immediate medical help.
  • An injection of calcium is given when there is muscle spasm.
  • Calcium is directly injected into the blood when sudden symptoms of low blood calcium are observed after a head and neck surgery.
  • Vitamin D and calcium supplements in tablet form are prescribed.

Certain populations are at higher risk for low calcium levels. These include:

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Simple Ways to Boost Your Calcium Levels

Calcium is essential for a healthy body. So, it becomes important to regularly keep up your calcium levels. Here are certain ways that would help you to some extent in maintaining substantial amounts of calcium in your body.

Lifestyle Changes

Statistics have shown that certain aspects in your lifestyle, such as physical activity and demographic parameters, contribute to 58%-69.8% of the variation in your bone mineral density during young age, particularly in women.

According to a study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science in 2015, there are several factors that promote a healthy bone mass.[1] These include:

  • Wholesome diet
  • Peak bone mass (maximum amount of bone a person has during his/her life)
  • Physical activity
  • Minimizing lifestyle risk factors such as:
  1. Low calcium and milk intake
  2. Tea, carbonated drink, and caffeine consumption
  3. Smoking
  4. Alcohol intake

As stated in a study published in Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2017, lifestyle advice should focus on:

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  • Building a safe home environment
  • Maintenance of BMI in the range of 20-30 (20<BMI<30)
  • Regular exercise for falls prevention
  • Termination of smoking

If somebody is at risk of fracture, the situation should be evaluated timely. Immediate medical help should be sought to avoid fractures in the case of older adults.[2]

1. Enjoy Early Morning Sunlight

The main role of vitamin D in the body is to absorb calcium and then regulate its amount in the bloodstream. It is recommended that one should get 200-400 IUs (international units) of vitamin D daily.

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As stated in the Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics in 2012, in the absence of vitamin D, approximately 10%-15% of the calcium and 60% of the phosphorus consumed are assimilated by the body. In the presence of vitamin D, these percentages increase to 30%-40% for calcium and 80% for phosphorus.

Sunlight is crucial for the synthesis of vitamin D in the human body. The absorption of UVB rays depends on the melanin content of your skin. Less melanin content means more sun exposure is needed to produce the same amount of vitamin D.[3]

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  • In order to promote the production of vitamin D, expose yourself to sunlight in the morning for at least 15 minutes every day, without applying sunscreen.
  • Refrain from coming into direct contact with the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If going outdoors is a necessity during this period, take precautions and apply a good amount of sunscreen.

2. Quit Drinking Soda

Cola is highly acidic (pH around 1.8), which is why consuming high amounts of cola (330 mL/h) may bring about a change of pH in the stomach acids.[14] Soda, be it diet or decaffeinated, may meddle with the quantity of calcium absorbed by your body.

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As highlighted in a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Endocrinology, consuming excess amounts of cola puts you at a greater risk of hypocalcemia (less calcium in the blood) and bone fractures.[14]

The increased phosphorus content (approx. 15-20 mg/dL) in the composition of cola, as compared with other carbonated drinks, makes it a major source of phosphate. When you drink an excess of cola, the phosphate content in your body spikes up, posing a hindrance to calcium absorption, leaching the calcium present in your bones and escalating its excretion in your urine.

  • Limit your consumption of soda to a minimal level.

3. Avoid Excess Caffeine

A 2012 study published in Nutrition concluded that the consumption of excess caffeine adversely impacts the calcium balance in the body. This may be a result of the decreased capacity of the intestines to absorb calcium while also decreasing its renal absorption.[15]

A 2016 study established a positive correlation between increased ingestion of caffeine and low bone mineral density (BMD) and osteoporotic fractures.[16]

  • Do not drink more than 2 cups of coffee a day.
  • Drink your coffee with milk to mitigate the effect of caffeine.
  • Replace coffee with green tea or any other healthy herbal tea/decaffeinated ice tea/hot tea.
  • Avoid heavy consumption of any drink that may have large amounts of caffeine.

Dietary Additions

1. Eat Calcium-Rich Foods

When we think of calcium, the first group of foods that we identify with it is dairy products – milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. These foods contribute to a considerable amount of calcium in the general diet of the population in the United States.

Food sources rich in calcium include:[4]

  • Dairy products (72%)
  • Eggs (2%)
  • Fruit (3%)
  • Meat, poultry, and fish (3%)
  • Legumes (4%)
  • Grains (5%)
  • Vegetables (7%)
  • Miscellaneous foods (3%)

To increase your calcium intake, the first thing you need to do is to enrich your diet with foods abundant in calcium. Some good choices include:

  • Skim or non-fat milk (125 mg calcium per 100 mL of milk)[5]
  • Yogurt (121 mg calcium per 100 mL of yogurt)[6]
  • Almond milk/rice milk
  • Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, turnips, and collard greens
  • Fortified cereals and breakfast bars
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Canned seafood (salmon, sardines, and tuna)[8]
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Soybeans and other soy products

For people looking to maintain healthy bones, a combination of weight-bearing physical exercises and a calcium-enriched diet is a good option.

Note: While spinach is a good source of calcium, its bioavailability is poor. Grains emerge as a source of calcium not because of their calcium content but because of their staple nature. Prefer calcium-fortified grains.[7]

2. Consume Foods Rich in Vitamin D

Vitamin D is known to help in calcium absorption, achieving homeostasis, and maintaining bone health and mineralization.

According to a study published in Nutrients in 2014, most of the sources that form a part of your diet are low in vitamin D.[10] This is why it is recommended to expose yourself to sunlight to promote the formation of vitamin D3. However, certain foods rich in vitamin D can also be incorporated into your diet.

You can include the following foods to supplement your vitamin D needs to an extent:

  • Consume animal food sources of vitamin D3 such as mackerel, tuna, cod liver oil, and milk.
  • Vegetal foods such as sun-exposed mushrooms help in the production of vitamin D2.
  • Milk, bread (10 µg), yogurt, orange juice (25 µg), and mushrooms (100 µg) are rich in vitamin D.[9]

Some other vitamin D-rich foods include:

  1. Butter
  2. Cheese
  3. Eggs
  4. Fatty fish
  5. Fortified milk
  6. Fortified cereal
  7. Liver
  8. Margarine
  9. Oysters and shrimp
  • You can also consider taking a vitamin D supplement in consultation with your doctor.

3. Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods

Magnesium is essential for the absorption of calcium in your body. This is due to the associated link in the metabolism of these two minerals. Magnesium-deficient individuals tend to have a calcium deficiency as well. The intestinal absorption and the renal excretion of these two ions are interdependent.

Keeping in mind the fact that our body is not very adept at storing magnesium, it is necessary to consume foods that abound in magnesium. Doing so helps us replenish our calcium levels.

In order to attain and sustain good magnesium levels in your body, partake magnesium-rich foods. These include:

  • Brown rice
  • Fruits (avocados, bananas)
  • Green vegetables (broccoli, cucumbers, green beans, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard)
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews)
  • Oatmeal
  • Proteins (black beans, tofu)
  • Sea vegetables
  • Seeds (flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds)
  • Soybeans
  • Vegetables (summer squash, sweet corn, turnips)
  • Whole grains

You can make up for the loss of magnesium levels in your body by:[11]

4. Take a Daily Calcium Supplement

People whose dietary consumption of calcium is insufficient or who are at risk of osteoporosis are usually prescribed calcium supplements. This is done to avoid a decrease in bone strength. Calcium supplements have been advertised for a long time as they enhance bone density and have become prevalent among people of all ages.[13]

Calcium supplementation may inhibit the increase in parathyroid hormone levels and prevent bone loss in individuals with a high bone turnover status, such as postmenopausal females and older people. Consuming calcium supplements may reduce the risk of colon cancer by a considerable extent.

  • You can take a supplement prescribed by your doctor for your daily calcium needs in the form of tablets, capsules, liquids, or powders. The recommended daily amount of calcium that should be consumed is 1,200 mg for adult males and females and 1,500 mg for older people.

Things to Remember:

As the intake of calcium increases, its absorption in your body decreases, thereby increasing the calcium content in urine.

The following things must be kept in mind when it comes to calcium supplements.

  • Before taking these supplements, always consult your doctor as the correct dosage relies on your age and your health conditions.
  • Get your vitamin D levels checked to make sure it is in the normal range.
  • For better assimilation of the supplement in your body, take the supplements on time as recommended by your doctor.
  • Men are usually not advised to take calcium supplements as they are associated with prostate cancer.
  • According to a study published in Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2015, excess of these supplements can lead to cardiovascular problems.[12] Therefore, individuals with extreme calcium deficiencies are likely to benefit more from a calcium supplement. However, the intake of a calcium supplement in well-nourished individuals may entail a risk of some unfavorable consequences such as cancer or accelerated cardiovascular disease.

End Note

As calcium is credited with numerous roles to play, monitoring its levels is of utmost importance for your body’s sound functioning.

You can keep your calcium levels at optimum by making changes in your diet and lifestyle. Eating foods rich in calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D and exposing yourself to sunlight are the easiest ways to ensure a steady supply of calcium to your body.

Resources:

  1. Alghadir AH, Gabr SA, Al-Eisa E. Physical activity and lifestyle effects on bone mineral density among young adults: socio-demographic and biochemical analysis. Journal of physical therapy science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4540860/. Published July 2015.
  2. Reid IR, Birstow SM, Bolland MJ. Calcium and Cardiovascular Disease. Endocrinology and metabolism (Seoul, Korea). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5620030/. Published September 2017
  3. Nair R, Maseeh A. Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. Journal of pharmacology & pharmacotherapeutics.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3356951/. Published 2012.
  4. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium. Overview of Calcium. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56060/.
  5. Food Composition Databases Show Foods — SKIM MILK, UPC: 853655005032. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/45232450.
  6. Food Composition Databases Show Foods — Yogurt, plain, whole milk. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/01116.
  7. Office of Dietary Supplements – Calcium. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/.
  8. Comerford KB. Frequent Canned Food Use is Positively Associated with Nutrient-Dense Food Group Consumption and Higher Nutrient Intakes in US Children and Adults. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4517017/. Published July 9, 2015.
  9. O’Mahony L, Stepien M, Gibney MJ, Nugent AP, Brennan L. The potential role of vitamin D enhanced foods in improving vitamin D status. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3260490/.
  10. G R, Gupta A. Vitamin D deficiency in India: prevalence, causalities and interventions. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942730/. Published February 21, 2014.
  11. Razzaque MS. Magnesium: Are We Consuming Enough? Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6316205/. Published December 2, 2018.
  12. Shin CS, Kim KM. The risks and benefits of calcium supplementation. Endocrinology and metabolism (Seoul, Korea). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4384676/. Published March 2015.
  13. Li K, Wang X-F, Li D-Y, et al. The good, the bad, and the ugly of calcium supplementation: a review of calcium intake on human health. Clinical interventions in aging. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6276611/. Published November 28, 2018.
  14. Guarnotta V, Riela S, Massaro M, et al. The Daily Consumption of Cola Can Determine Hypocalcemia: A Case Report of Postsurgical Hypoparathyroidism-Related Hypocalcemia Refractory to Supplemental Therapy with High Doses of Oral Calcium. Frontiers in endocrinology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5266683/. Published January 26, 2017.
  15. Al-Othman A, Al-Musharaf S, Al-Daghri NM, et al. Tea and coffee consumption in relation to vitamin D and calcium levels in Saudi adolescents. Nutrition journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3478213/. Published August 20, 2012.
  16. Choi M-K, Kim M-H. The Association between Coffee Consumption and Bone Status in Young Adult Males according to Calcium Intake Level. Clinical nutrition research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4967721/. Published July 2016.

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