Certain populations, including teenagers, older adults, and people who are chronically ill, have a higher risk of developing a calcium deficiency, or hypocalcemia. Here are eight signs to keep an eye out for.
When you haven't been getting enough calcium, the first symptoms you have might not even be noticeable. Megan Denos, a registered dietitian nutritionist, told INSIDER that numbness or tingling in your fingers can be a sign that your body hasn't been getting enough calcium. She said boosting your intake can start with the food on your plate.
"The best way to get your nutrients is through food, so I would recommend trying to add more calcium-rich foods to your diet before supplementing," Denos said. "If you want to start taking a calcium supplement, talk to your doctor first so they can assess the risks versus benefits and help you decide on the appropriate dose. There have been inconsistent findings regarding whether or not calcium supplementation is linked to cardiovascular events, and the benefits of calcium supplements still remain uncertain."
Natalie Allen, a registered dietitian and a clinical instructor at Missouri State University, told INSIDER that frequent muscle cramps can signal a calcium deficiency and said "consuming chocolate milk after a workout can help prevent cramps and also repair and refuel the muscles."
Ysabel Montemayor, a registered dietitian and the nutrition director at meal-delivery service Fresh n' Lean, said dizziness can be a symptom of "severe calcium deficiency."
Denos said a lack of calcium can also lead to lethargy and sluggishness. In fixing your calcium levels, she said to keep in mind that your body can handle only so much at once.
"There is a limit to the amount of calcium that the body can absorb at one time, so it's better to eat small amounts throughout the day as opposed to all at once," she said.
"Osteoporosis is a concerning condition, more common in females," Allen said. "This is a process that takes years to occur, but there are few symptoms. Be proactive. Consume dairy, calcium, and do strength training. Of concern in people with osteoporosis are bone fractures, especially as someone ages."
Back pain and getting shorter are among symptoms of weakened bones.
If you don't eat dairy, there are plenty of other foods that are good sources of calcium. Chia, sesame, and other seeds are rich in the mineral, as are sardines, salmon, almonds, fortified foods, and dark, leafy greens.
Montemayor said memory issues or memory loss can happen if you have a calcium deficiency. This often occurs with feelings of fatigue, according to Medical News Today.
Denos said convulsions are a sign of a severe calcium deficiency. The Epilepsy Foundation reported that seizures occur in 20% to 25% of "patients presenting with hypocalcemia as a medical emergency."
According to Denos, abnormal heart rhythms are a long-term symptom of calcium deficiency. She said that if you're concerned about your calcium levels, you should make sure you're also getting enough vitamin D.
"It aids the body in calcium absorption," she said. "This is why many dairy products and nondairy milks are fortified with vitamin D. Other sources of vitamin D include fortified orange juice, salmon, tuna, swordfish, eggs, mushrooms, breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin D, and, of course, sunlight."
If you're not sure whether you're getting enough calcium or vitamin D or you're concerned, talk to your doctor.