Calcium, iron and potassium are important nutritional elements of a balanced, healthy diet. Calcium is a mineral important in the development, growth and healing of bones. Iron is important in the function of red blood cells, the cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Potassium is important for the proper functioning of muscles, nerves, and the heart. Deficiencies in any of these elements can cause serious health consequences.
The majority of calcium in the body is stored in bone. The body moves calcium out of bone as needed to keep a steady level in the bloodstream. Common causes of calcium deficiency include decreased parathyroid hormone, the hormone in charge of maintaining normal calcium levels; low level of magnesium, which decreases the activity of the parathyroid gland; and vitamin D deficiency, which is necessary to absorb calcium from the gut. Symptoms of calcium deficiency include tingling of the tongue, fingers and feet; muscle aches; symptoms of brain dysfunction, such as confusion, delirium, and hallucinations; and tetany, or painful muscle spasms.
Iron deficiency can lead to anemia. According to the Nemours Foundation iron deficiency one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in children. Iron is important in the production of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that binds oxygen for transport throughout the body. Iron deficiency makes the body produce fewer and smaller red blood cells, leading to anemia. Causes of iron deficiency include insufficient iron in the diet, inability to absorb iron from the gut and ongoing blood loss, as in during menstruation. Symptoms include weakness, decreased appetite, paleness and fatigue.
Common causes of potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia, include diarrhea, conditions that affect the kidney’s ability to retain potassium, eating disorders and certain medications, such as antibiotics and diuretics, which are medicines that cause increased excretion of fluids and potassium in the urine. The initial symptoms of potassium deficiency are subtle, but as the deficiency continues, it can lead to constipation, fatigue, muscle weakness with breakdown of muscle fibers, or rhabdomyolysis, and abnormal heart rhythms.
The treatment of calcium deficiency includes oral and intravenous supplementation of calcium and vitamin D. Certain diuretics can actually decrease the excretion of calcium in the urine. Iron deficiency anemia requires oral iron supplements. If the anemia is severe, a blood transfusion may be necessary. For potassium deficiency, oral and intravenous supplements may be necessary to prevent arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms.