High calcium levels in the blood can sometimes cause health problems that need to be addressed. But what's the underlying cause of this, and how do you reduce calcium levels in the blood naturally? It starts with figuring out your unique situation.
High Calcium Levels
For the most part, calcium is an essential and useful mineral for the human body. It's responsible for bone and muscle health, as well as a variety of metabolic functions. And since calcium cannot be made naturally in the human body, it is consumed through foods like milk, yogurt, sardines, and tofu.
The National Institutes of Health recommends different levels of calcium consumption, depending on your age and biological sex. For most adults, around 1,000 milligrams per day is a safe number to aim for — and more for people breastfeeding, elderly people, babies and people with amenorrhea.
But how do you know if you have hypercalcemia, or excess levels of calcium in your blood? You may not have any symptoms in the early stages, but a blood test can detect whether your calcium levels are in a normal range. This is typically part of a routine check-up when you go in for a physical exam.
Causes of Hypercalcemia
The Cleveland Clinic notes that high calcium levels in the blood can be caused by more than 25 different diseases, each with a different level of required urgency and various options for treatment. One fairly common cause is hyperparathyroidism, which happens when the parathyroid glands become enlarged or develop a growth.
According to MedlinePlus, a subsidiary of the National Library of Medicine, these growths are usually benign. When left untreated, hyperparathyroidism can lead to bone thinning or kidney stones, but it is usually caught early by health care professionals during blood tests. About 100,000 people in the United States develop this condition every year.
Hypercalcemia can also be caused by hypervitaminosis D (excess intake of vitamin D) or certain types of cancer or as a result of a change in medications. Every case is slightly different, and your doctor can tell you more about what might be happening in your body.
In some cases, high calcium levels in the blood can be caused by medications like hydrochlorothiazide and other thiazide diuretics, or even by taking too much calcium carbonate (a supplement found in Tums and similar antacid tablets). While these over-the-counter supplements can be helpful to ease your heartburn, they should not be taken in excessive qualities. Follow the directions on the bottle for information on how to consume them.
If drug-induced hypercalcemia is your issue, the problem may be addressed by changing medications to reduce calcium in the blood naturally. But this should not be done without consulting a health care professional first.
Hypercalcemia and Cancer
While cancer-related hypercalcemia is less common, it is the leading cause of hypercalcemia in hospitalized patients — affecting 10 to 30 percent of patients with cancer. Typically, this affects patients who are already dealing with the disease and now experiencing a spread to other areas of the body.
People with breast cancer, lung cancer, and myeloma are most commonly affected by high calcium levels. In these cases, doctors may rely on bisphosphonates and other medications to help lower calcium in the blood.
Symptoms of High Calcium Levels
Depending on what is causing your hypercalcemia, it may manifest in different ways. If caught early, your doctor might be able to solve the problem before you notice symptoms at all. In serious cases, you may experience muscle weakness, impaired concentration, nausea, and fatigue, among other symptoms.
When hypercalcemia begins to affect bodily functions, it needs to be addressed in order to keep the body healthy. While your doctor may recommend medical treatment for serious conditions like endocrine disorders or cancer, there are ways you can reduce calcium in the blood naturally.
Home Remedies for High Calcium
One of the best ways to lower your calcium levels is to stop taking calcium supplements, if these are something you've been using. Acid reflux and heartburn medicines containing calcium carbonate can also contribute to high calcium levels, so you may want to cut back on these as well.
Staying active will keep your digestive system moving, which sends calcium to your bones and muscles rather than your blood. Long periods of inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to hypercalcemia, since this increases the likelihood that the calcium you eat will not disperse in your body the way it should.
In rare cases, hypercalcemia can be caused or exacerbated by dehydration, which is why it's important to drink four to six cups of water per day, and more if you've been sweating or exerting yourself. Hydration also aids your body in breaking down food.
While it may seem logical to lower your intake of calcium-rich foods like dairy products and fish, this isn't always a good idea. While you do want to reduce your body's calcium levels, you don't want to deprive yourself of other functional nutrients your body needs to perform at its best. Before making any serious changes to your diet, talk to your health care provider to come up with a plan.
Read more: What Are Some Disadvantages of Dairy Milk?
When to Report Hypercalcemia
If you are experiencing vomiting and nausea and can't figure out the root cause, go to your doctor to get a blood test and find out the problem. If left untreated, hypercalcemia can cause complications such as osteoporosis and kidney stones. For people with hyperparathyroidism, surgery may be required in serious cases where the high calcium levels have gone unaddressed.
High calcium levels in the blood are uncommon, but they should be detected early to prevent any health problems down the road. On its own, calcium is not a problem for the body — but when levels start to become abnormally high, it could be a sign of something bigger going on.
Home remedies for high calcium work in mild cases, but in more severe situations involving noticeable symptoms, you should rely on your doctor's expertise. Depending on your situation, medical treatment may be necessary to treat hypercalcemia and ensure you don't experience more serious ramifications.
Is This an Emergency?
- National Institutes of Health: "Calcium"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Hypercalcemia"
- MedlinePlus: "Hypercalcemia"
- Frontiers in Endocrinology: "Vitamin D Toxicity – A Clinical Perspective"
- Clinical Calcium: "Drug-Induced Hypercalcemia"
- Canadian Family Physician: "Cancer-Related Hypercalcemia"
- NYU Department of Medicine: "Hypercalcemia"
- American Family Physician: "A Practical Approach to Hypercalcemia"
- Cancer Research UK: "Managing High Calcium"
- Stanford University Medical Center: "Hypercalcemia Patient Education"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How Much Water Should You Drink?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Left Untreated, Hypercalcemia Can Lead to Health Problems"