© Robyn Mackenzie | Dreamstime.com
You probably know that calcium is important for growing and keeping your bones strong. Did you know that calcium has many other important functions? These include heart, muscle, nerve, blood vessel, and hormone functions. There is also some evidence that maintaining a normal calcium level may reduce your risk for cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Because your body does not produce calcium, you need to get it from your diet. [1,2]
Are You at Risk for Calcium Deficiency?
The amount of calcium you need to get from your diet every day depends on your age and your gender. Calcium is measured in milligrams (mg). These are average daily recommended amounts: 
- Children ages 4 to 8: 1,000 mg
- Children ages 9 to 18: 1,300 mg
- Adults ages 19 to 50: 1,000 mg
- Men ages 51 to 70: 1,000 mg
- Women ages 51 to 70: 1,200 mg
- Adults 71 and older: 1,200 mg
Many people do not get enough calcium from their diets. People over age 70 do not absorb calcium as well from their diet. Most people can get enough calcium from their diet if they eat foods high in calcium. These foods include: [1,2]
- Dairy foods like milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt
- Dark, green, leafy vegetables
- Fish the you eat with the bones, like canned sardines and salmon
- Egg yolks
- Whole grains
- Foods with added (fortified) calcium like soy, cereal, juice, and milk substitutes
You may be at higher risk for calcium deficiency if: [1,2]
- You are a vegetarian.
- You can’t digest dairy foods because of lactose intolerance.
- You have osteoporosis.
- You can’t absorb calcium because you have inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease.
- You are on long-term steroid medications
Being low in vitamin D can also put you at risk for calcium deficiency because you need vitamin D to absorb calcium. Vitamin D comes from fish with edible bones like canned salmon and sardines, egg yolks, and foods fortified with vitamin D. Both calcium and vitamin D are also in multivitamins. Sun exposure is also important for vitamin D. The recommended daily amount is 600 international units. 
What Are the Signs of Calcium Deficiency?
Your body uses the calcium stored in your bones and teeth like a calcium bank. If you get low, your body will take some calcium out of the bank. This means that you will not have any symptoms of calcium deficiency until your bones become weak. That can take years. The first sign may be an abnormal bone density scan or a bone that breaks easily. 
Serious calcium deficiency, called hypocalcemia, can cause symptoms of numbness and tingling in your fingers, heart palpitations, and even seizures. This type of calcium loss is rare and only occurs in people who lose lots of calcium rapidly. This is usually due to a serious illnesses or medical procedure. It is not the same as diet calcium deficiency. 
Should You Take Calcium Supplements?
The best way to get calcium is through your diet. Taking extra calcium is usually not necessary unless you are at risk. There is no benefit to taking more calcium than the recommended daily amount. More is not better.  In fact, too much calcium has some risks. Higher than normal calcium may be linked to a higher risk for heart attack and prostate cancer. Calcium supplements can also cause bloating and constipation, and possible kidney stones. [1,2]
Calcium supplements come in many forms. The two most popular are calcium citrate and calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate has more calcium and is least expensive, but is more likely to cause constipation. Calcium citrate is easier to absorb, but costs more. Calcium supplements can interact with many common drugs including medications used to treat some thyroid, heart, and blood pressure conditions. [1,2]
Before starting a calcium supplement, talk to your doctor. Find out if you are at risk for calcium deficiency. If your doctor thinks you need a supplement, let your doctor recommend the best supplement and dose for you. [1,2]
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, Calcium, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/
- Mayo Clinic, Nutrition and Healthy Eating, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/calcium-supplements/art-20047097