When you think of calcium deficiency, you probably think of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a serious disorder that can lead to broken bones and even shorten your life, but lack of calcium can affect your body in many other ways, too. Your nerves and muscles cannot function without enough calcium, so certain kinds of calcium deficiency can cause weakness, muscle spasms and muscle pain, as well as neurologic symptoms.
Types of Calcium Deficiency
There are two main types of calcium deficiency: dietary deficiency and hypocalcemia, or low blood calcium. Calcium is an essential building block in your bones, and is also present in your blood, where it circulates to your nerves and muscles. Having enough calcium in your blood is so important for your body to function that, if you're not getting enough calcium in your diet, your body will "rob" calcium from your bones and move it to your bloodstream. Because of this, a chronic dietary calcium deficiency will result in bone loss. Hypocalcemia is usually a side effect of medications you are taking or other health problems. If you have hypocalcemia, your doctor will monitor your blood calcium levels regularly and prescribe medication if necessary.
Calcium Deficiency Symptoms
If you have dietary calcium deficiency, you will probably have no symptoms until bone loss is severe enough to cause fractures or spinal problems. Sore muscles due to calcium deficiency are usually caused by mild hypocalcemia, because your muscles cannot function properly without enough calcium. Once your blood calcium returns to a normal level, the soreness will go away. Minor hypocalcemia can also cause numbness, burning or prickling sensations, loss of appetite or bruising.
Calcium and Muscle Function
If you lack calcium, your nerve cells can become extra sensitive to sodium and fire too often, causing muscle cramping and pain. Calcium is also present inside your muscles, in a sort of pocket called the sarcoplasmic reticulum, or SR. When your nerves tell your muscles to contract, the SR releases calcium, which binds to a protein within the muscle fiber called troponin and causes it to change shape. This shape change is part of a chain reaction that causes your muscle to contract. If there is not enough calcium in your muscles' SR, your muscles will not contract properly and you will experience muscle weakness.
Causes and Risks of Calcium Deficiency
While dietary calcium deficiency is the result of a poor diet, hypocalcemia can have many causes. The most common cause is hypoparathyroidism, a condition that sometimes results from damage to the parathyroid, a gland in the neck, during neck surgery. Disorders of the parathyroid, such as DiGeorge syndrome, can also cause hypoparathyroidism. Vitamin D deficiency can cause hypocalcemia as well, as can chemotherapy, diuretic medications, acute pancreatitis and some types of cancer. In addition to potentially severe muscle pain and weakness, hypocalcemia can become life threatening by interfering with the function of the heart muscle or the brain. If you have hypocalcemia, be sure to follow your doctor's instructions carefully.