Calcium is a chemical element that is ritical for our physical and mental health. It is necessary to build strong, dense bones early and throughout life. About 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones and teeth. The remaining calcium is used in varied physiological functions, including muscular exertion and electrical conduction of heart muscles. It is a critical chemical involved in the release of neurotransmitters, chemicals that serve as messengers between cells within the nervous system. Excessive amounts of calcium or deficiencies of calcium can be linked to various problems, including depression.
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Long-term deficiency of calcium can contribute to rickets, poor blood clotting and osteoporosis. Short-term, mild deficiency causes nerve sensitivity, twitching muscles, brittle nails, palpitations, and mood and behavior disturbances including irritability, anxiety, depression, dysphoria (mild depression) and insomnia. More severe deficiencies can cause muscle cramps, numbness, stiffness of hands, abnormal heartbeat, tingling of the extremities and depression. Calcium deficiencies have also been associated with mania. People at risk for calcium deficiency include the elderly, athletes, people on high-protein or high-fiber diets, people who don’t eat dairy products or other calcium-rich foods and people who drink a lot of alcohol. People who eat a lot of high-phosphorus foods such as meat, cheese, processed foods and sodas are also at risk of calcium deficiency.
There are several different possible causes of excessive calcium. Over consumption of calcium supplements could produce noxious effects, but generally excessive calcium will be the result of a problem with the parathyroid glands. The parathyroid glands produce parathyroid hormone, which regulates calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus levels within the blood and bone. When blood calcium levels are low, the parathyroid gland releases parathyroid hormone, which causes calcium to be taken from the bone and released into the blood stream. It also enhances the efficiency with which dietary calcium is absorbed by the intestines and kidney. In a condition called hyperparathyroidism, the parathyroid gland produces too much parathyroid hormone, which causes too much calcium to be released into the blood stream. Effects of hyperparathyroidism include back pain, bone and joint pain, blurred vision, increased thirst, itchy skin, muscular weakness, personality change, fatigue and depression.
Calcium and Premenstrual Syndrome
Premenstrual syndrome afflicts millions of women. Ovarian hormones such as estrogen vary during the menstrual cycle, affecting levels of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D. Estrogen influences calcium metabolism, calcium absorption and parathyroid secretion, causing calcium levels (and vitamin D levels) to rise and fall during the menstrual cycle. Hypocalcaemia—low levels of blood calcium—produces mood and body symptoms that are remarkably similar to symptoms of PMS. As reported at NewsGroups.Derkeiler.com, evidence suggests that women in the luteal phase of PMS experience hypocalcaemia—a deficiency of blood calcium—which then triggers hyperparathyroidism. The parathyroid gland attempts to compensate for the deficiency of blood calcium by overproducing parathyroid hormone. Possible effects include irritability, anxiety, fatigue, mild personality change and depression.
Effectiveness of Calcium Treatment
Several clinical trials of women with PMS, described at NewsGroups.Derkeiler.com, found that supplementation with calcium can improve many of the mood and somatic symptoms associated with PMS. For example, a 1989 study led by Dr. Penland found that 73% of women taking calcium supplements had significant improvement in their symptoms. These women reported a 50% reduction in their PMS symptoms. Another study found that women who took 1,336 mg of calcium daily along with manganese showed significant improvement in PMS symptoms including mood, behavior, pain and water retention. In yet another study of 2000 women conducted in 1998, women who took a daily calcium supplement of 1,200 mg had a 48% reduction in symptom scores on negative affect, water retention, food cravings and pain.
Calcium and Depression
As described above, deficiencies of calcium are associated with irritability, anxiety and depression, and excesses of calcium are associated with depression. While research has been conducted that shows the effectiveness of calcium supplementation in alleviating depression associated with PMS symptoms, there is little research that directly examines the effectiveness of calcium supplementation in alleviating other forms of depression. Calcium dysregulation is but one of many possible causes of depression, so calcium supplementation has not been a primary focus of depression research. If you have a depression that is potentially associated with hypocalcaemia, or that is symptomatic of a hyperparathyroidism, then calcium supplementation could potentially bring relief. If you suspect you have a calcium deficiency or excess that contributes to a depression, consult with your physician, who can evaluate your blood calcium levels, evaluate your parathyroid functioning and make recommendations regarding supplementation. Given that either too much or too little calcium can contribute to depression, it is prudent to consult with your physician before using a calcium supplement.