If nutrition were a movie, calcium would be typecasted as *the* mineral for bone health. And for good reason, too—your bones need calcium to stay strong and healthy. So much, in fact, that low levels of calcium over time can lead to weak and fragile bones, aka osteoporosis.
But like other nutrients, calcium is a talented multi-tasker. Beyond bone health, it’s also necessary for other bodily functions, including those related to your cycle. Pretty surprising, right? Let’s check out how calcium affects your periods, plus why it’s a good idea for menstruating folks to take a calcium supplement.
Calcium is key for managing PMS.
Yes, it’s true: Calcium can help ease premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The condition, which affects between 70 to 90% of menstruating women, includes a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms like bloating, cramps, crying spells, and fatigue.
In a 2017 study in Obstetrics & Gynecology Science, researchers examined how daily calcium supplementation affects PMS symptoms in female students. They found that calcium can decrease PMS symptoms, including mood changes, depression, and anxiety. (Bonus: It was found to help water retention, or bloating, too.)
According to the study, calcium and the synthesis of serotonin—the “happiness hormone”—are linked. Specifically, a 2015 review states that serotonin production and release depend on calcium, so it’s important to keep your levels in check.
Extra points if calcium is combined with vitamin B6, which also plays a role in regulating mood and depressive symptoms. The combo was found to relieve PMS symptoms in a 2016 study as well.
Your calcium levels change throughout your cycle.
As estrogen fluctuates throughout your cycle, so do your calcium levels. That’s because—wait for it—estrogen regulates calcium. Seriously, those hormones control everything!
According to the International Journal of Basic and Applied Physiology, estrogen hinders bone resorption, or when osteoclasts (a type of bone cell) disintegrate and release calcium into your blood. It sounds scary, but it’s a totally natural process that helps to maintain normal blood calcium concentrations.
Estrogen increases twice during your cycle: once just before ovulation and once during your luteal phase. The second rise isn’t as drastic as the first, but it increases nonetheless. And since estrogen inhibits bone resorption (and therefore, normal blood calcium levels), these peaks in estrogen can decrease blood calcium.
If your calcium levels are already low, you might be more susceptible to even lower blood calcium when all of this goes down. This can exacerbate your PMS symptoms, according to a 2019 article.
Your body doesn’t make calcium.
Our bodies can do some pretty amazing things, but they can’t do everything. This includes making calcium, one of the most important minerals for overall health.
That’s why getting enough calcium through food and supplements is vital. Otherwise, without enough calcium, your body will have to break down bone (through bone resorption) to keep your blood levels normal. This can eventually increase your risk of osteoporosis, as mentioned earlier.
On that note…
It can be tricky to meet your calcium requirements.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), adult women ages 19 and older need 1,000 mg of calcium a day. But depending on your diet or lifestyle, it might be difficult to meet the mark.
Why? Well, foods rich in calcium include:
- Dairy (like milk, yogurt, and cheese)
- Calcium-fortified products (like cereal, English muffins, or tofu)
- Fish with edible bones (like canned sardines or pink salmon)
To a lesser extent, chia seeds and some dark leafy veggies—like kale and collard greens—contain calcium.
Yet, you may have trouble getting enough if you:
- Eat a vegan diet
- Limit or avoid dairy products
- Eat too much protein or sodium, which increases calcium excretion
- Have a digestive disorder, like celiac disease, that reduces your calcium absorption
- Have amenorrhea (absence of periods), which increases calcium excretion and reduces calcium absorption
Calcium absorption depends on vitamin D.
Like most nutrients, calcium can’t do its thing alone. It needs vitamin D in order to be properly absorbed by the body.
Vitamin D helps your body make a hormone called calcitriol, or bioactive vitamin D. It works by encouraging calcium absorption in the intestines and kidneys. However, if you don’t get enough vitamin D, your body can’t efficiently absorb calcium—no matter how much you consume. (Again, it will take calcium from the bone instead.)
Women need 600 International Units (IU) until they’re 70 years old. (This requirement increases to 800 IU after that.) You can fuel up on vitamin D by:
- Getting (safe) amounts of sun exposure, which promotes vitamin D production in the skin
- Eating foods high in vitamin D, like egg yolks, liver, and saltwater fish
- Taking vitamin D supplements
Oh, and get this: Your vitamin D levels also change throughout your menstrual cycle, according to a 2019 review. Estrogen increases activity of enzymes that break down vitamin D, so levels are lower just before ovulation and during your luteal phase (i.e., during estrogen’s two peaks). What’s more, the 2019 review also states that taking calcium plus vitamin D can help omit or decrease PMS symptoms.
If you choose to take calcium supplements, make sure the product contains vitamin D. Most calcium supplements already do, but it doesn’t hurt to double check.
You can also kill two birds with one stone and take a multivitamin supplement with calcium. Marea’s PMS Elixir, for example, contains 500 mg of calcium (39% of your daily value)—plus magnesium, B vitamins, and other key nutrients involved in hormonal balance and support during that time of the month. Score.
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