What It Means When Your Calcium Levels Are Low

When most people think of calcium, they imagine bones and the skeletal system. This is because it does compose every bone of our body — in fact, around 99% of all the calcium in our bodies can be found stored in our bones, as per Harvard's School of Public Health. The rest circulates in the bloodstream and can be found in the tissues of the body, where it also works to aid in cardiovascular activity and muscle function, explains Medical News Today.

Calcium intake recommendations differ based on age and sex (per Mayo Clinic). Men between the ages 19 and 70 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day while those over the age of 71 should take in 1,200 milligrams. Women, on the other hand, should aim for 1,000 milligrams between the ages of 19 and 50 and boost their intake to 1,200 milligrams after age 51. To ensure you're reaching your daily recommended intake, Harvard's School of Public Health gives a list of calcium-rich foods to incorporate into your diet. These include yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products, edamame, tofu, salmon, leafy greens, and calcium-fortified drinks and foods.

Certain groups of people are at a higher risk of being deficient in this key mineral, explains Medical News Today, including vegetarians and vegans, anyone intolerant to lactose, and postmenopausal individuals. If you fall into one of these groups or simply suspect you may not be getting enough calcium, here's what you should know about low calcium levels.

Low calcium levels can be life-threatening

Medical News Today points out that having low calcium levels, a condition known as hypocalcemia, is characterized by a blood concentration of less than 8.8 milligrams of the mineral per deciliter. Leaving the condition untreated can be damaging long-term and potentially even lead to death. In a 2017 editorial carried out by the Mayo Clinic, researchers reported that ongoing hypocalcemia is linked to sudden cardiac arrest, demonstrating the critical role calcium plays in cardiovascular function. Before this scares you too much, however, there are signs you can look out for that indicate you have hypocalcemia including muscle aches, fatigue and insomnia, dry and brittle skin and nails, osteoporosis, and tooth decay (via Medical News Today). As a general rule, symptoms will worsen as the deficiency progresses.

Low calcium levels can be due to a number of factors that go beyond simply not eating enough calcium-rich foods, including malabsorption (per Healthline). This can happen as a result of drug interactions, low vitamin D levels (this vitamin helps the body absorb calcium), kidney problems, chemotherapy treatments, and partial removal of the thyroid gland. To compensate for a lack of calcium, the body will begin leeching it from the bones, which can make them weak and susceptible to fractures and breaks.

Fortunately, Medical News Today states that there are ways to boost calcium blood levels with supplementation and calcium injections. To determine the best course of action for your specific case, work with your doctor.