Calcium and Clinical Depression: Be Careful!

About Calcium

Calcium is a chemical element that is critical 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.

Sadly, most people do not ingest nearly enough bioavailable calcium because when dairy products are pasteurized and homogenized, the calcium they contain is made less available to the body.  Also, few other foods contain much calcium today.

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Functions of Calcium in the Body

Calcium helps regulate cell permeability, is critical for maintenance of acid-base balance and assists many other body activities as well.  These include male and female hormone secretion, cell division and osmotic balance.  It stabilizes cell membranes, helps muscles relax and slows nerve transmission and the heart rate.  Calcium also helps prevent fluid loss from cells and from the blood.

Calcium inhibits thyroid-releasing hormone and increases insulin secretion.  It inhibits the sympathetic nervous system.  It is required for phosphorus metabolism and energy production in the krebs cycle.
Calcium is also important as a detoxifier, preventing the uptake of lead and cadmium.  Blood clotting and fat digestion depends on calcium.   Calcium is extremely alkaline-forming and helps maintain the pH balance of the blood.

Stability, hardness and physicality are qualities of calcium.  When deficient, one becomes weak and fragile.  When calcium is in excess one becomes rigid and immobile.  Its opposite elements are phosphorus and sodium, elements that activate and dissolve things.  Calcium personality types are earthy, plodding, steady and blunt.  They often move slowly and awkwardly and are unpolished in their language and mannerisms.  They develop slowly and have a great potential for love and spirituality.  

Calcium Deficiency

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.

Calcium Excess

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.

One of the recent reports from clinical psychologist Dr. Richard Malter who is the Director of the Malter Institute for Natural Development in Illinois, stated that serious psychological problems can indeed result from extended use of calcium supplements, causing calcium excess in the body. Other adverse conditions associated with calcium supplementation might include fatigue, exhaustion, depression, anxiety, panic attacks headaches, paranoid feelings, loss of memory and concentration, headaches and insomnia.

Another factor associated with too much tissue calcium is susceptibility to viral infections. Studies have shown that when calcium is added to tissues containing dormant viruses, the virus will become more active and proliferate readily.

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Biounavailable Calcium

 In many instances, calcium is biounavailable.  This means it is present, but cannot be used properly.  This condition causes symptoms of deficiency and excess at the same time.

Calcium Regulation in your Body

If calcium levels fall too low, then the body responds by excreting a hormone called parathyroid hormone (PTH), into the blood. PTH functions by increasing the absorption of calcium from the kidney(s). At the same time, PTH allows the kidney to shed phosphates in the urine. This helps to retain calcium. The reason PTH works on the kidney to retain calcium, is simply because calcium is transported throughout the body, via the blood. Some of the calcium in the blood is removed by the kidney and excreted in the urine. When the kidney begins to remove too much calcium, then PTH is secreted to stop this calcium loss. PTH is produced in the 4 parathyroid glands, which lie behind the thyroid gland.

PTH also increases the production of 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol. This is the scientific name for the active form of vitamin D. And as you may know, the function of this vitamin is to help in the uptake of calcium from the intestines (when you eat a meal). The active form of vitamin D also causes some of the calcium stored in your bones to exit the skeletal space and enter the blood. This brings the blood level of calcium back to normal. Keep in mind, that bones not only support your body and protect you, but also store extra calcium, for times when you need it. Since, your body is aware that it needs more calcium, it releases this PTH, and PTH goes to work, causing vitamin D production, and affecting the kidney to conserve calcium. It's that simple.

If we happen to have too much calcium in the blood, the body tries to alleviate this situation by doing several things. First of all, as you can figure, PTH, and vitamin D are no longer needed because they will only mobilize more calcium in the blood and we don't want that. We want it lowered, since it's too high now. The body reacts to this situation by secreting yet another hormone, called calcitonin and is secreted by special cells of the thyroid gland. Calcitonin decreases the desorption (taking away) of calcium from the bone and increases the loss of calcium and phosphate in the urine. By excreting excess calcium in the urine, the body is getting rid of the extra. This brings calcium levels back down to the normal range.

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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, 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, 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 deregulation is but one of many possible causes of depression, so calcium supplementation has not been a primary focus of depression research.

Still, it has been proven by clinical researchers that calcium plays an important role in neuronal activity, and the list of neuronal processes found to be mediated by calcium continues to grow. Because neuronal activity influences cognitive and behavioral variables, the discoveries of the different neuronal effects of calcium are of great significance to the sciences of mind and behavior. This is especially evident in the instances that calcium affects neuronal processes specifically associated with particular mental or behavioral phenomena. One such instance is represented by the finding that calcium influences the activity of the neurons that are theorized to mediate mood. Monoaminergic neurons have been theorized to mediate mood and emotions. There is a variety of evidence that suggest the involvement of these neurons in mood and emotions.

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.

Dietary Sources of Calcium

Excellent calcium foods include raw milk, raw cheese and raw yogurt or kefir.  The next best may be fresh or even store-bought carrot juice.  Everyone should drink about 10-12 ounces of this daily for its calcium content.  Children need proportionately less.  Another excellent source is the bones of animals that are boiled, preferably, for a number of hours to separate the calcium from the bone.  One then drinks the soup stock made of bones.

Other good sources are sardines, caviar, cod roe, and good quality egg yolks that are not overcooked.  The next best sources are kelp, yeast and toasted almond butter.  Other seeds such as sesame, sunflower and pumpkin are other decent sources if one eats enough.  We do not recommend many seeds in the diet, however.  Cooked or better juiced dark green vegetables such as kale, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, comfrey and carrots are also good sources.

Corn tortillas or corn chips prepared in the traditional way with lime are other good sources.  However, most corn chips do not contain lime and are not a good source of calcium.  Neither is corn bread or corn eaten as a vegetable.

Strict vegetarians often develop a calcium deficiency.  Although they eat greens, nuts and seeds, the calcium from these sources is less available than in eggs and raw dairy products.  Their diets are also low in calcium synergists such as vitamins A and D.

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Calcium Supplements

The best calcium supplements may be considered carrot juice, bones such as found in some cans of sardines and salmon, bone broth and kelp.  Some products made from raw dairy products may be goods sources as well, but this is variable.  These sources, in theory, combine a very usable form of calcium with other vitamins and minerals needed for calcium utilization.  Those with a hyperthyroid condition may have trouble with the iodine in kelp, in which case they should just reduce the amount used daily.

Non-food Calcium Supplements  

Many good forms are sold.  However, our experience is that most of them are not nearly as effective as the food forms of calcium supplements.  I am not sure why this is so.  Among those often sold are calcium citrate, calcium chelate, calcium lactate and calcium gluconate.  Bone meal used to be popular and is an excellent supplement if it is not contaminated with lead.  Microcrystalline hydroxyapatite crystals (MCHC) is another excellent form of calcium.  Other forms that are less common are calcium orotate and aspartate.

Calcium carbonate, phosphate, dicalcium phosphate and tricalcium phosphate are not well absorbed as the phosphorus binds tightly to the calcium.  Calcium carbonate is common chalk.  It is extremely alkaline and found in Tums, other anti-acids and coral calcium.  People who are too acidic may benefit from it.  Unfortunately, stomach acid is important for digestion and reducing it too much interferes with digestion.

Warning Note

As noted above, both conditions, associated with calcium deficiency and calcium excess are undesirable. Do not attempt to self-medicate without consulting your primary physician and never fall victim to the theory or practice that includes "More is Better!"

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