Calcium is by far the most abundant mineral in the body. Most people know calcium for its role in bone health. But, in addition to supporting bone health, calcium plays a critical role in blood coagulation, muscle contractions, and heart health. Unfortunately, too many Americans fall short of getting the amount of calcium they need, which can lead to bone loss, low bone density, and increase the chances of broken bones.
Benefits of Calcium
Our bodies need calcium to build and maintain healthy bones. It also requires calcium to enable proper muscle and nerve function. Both children and adults need to keep healthy calcium levels to enjoy the plethora of benefits associated with the well-known mineral. Calcium benefits your body by:
- Helping bone and teeth formation
- Helping maintain strength
- Helping muscle movements and contractions
- Assisting nerves function
- Helping blood vessels to relax and constrict to aid in blood circulation
- Releasing hormones and enzymes that help with various bodily functions
Also, calcium supplements are tied to several health benefits including bone loss prevention in postmenopausal women; assisting with fat loss; lowering the risk of colon cancer; and improving metabolic markers.
Risks of Taking too Little Calcium
According to a study, only 32% of U.S. adults met the adequate calcium intake. When people don’t meet their calcium requirements, they face health issues such as:
- Children not reaching their potential adult height
- Adults suffering from low bone mass
- Exponentially increasing the risk of osteoporosis
Hypocalcemia, or calcium deficiency, is often tied with illnesses and conditions such as:
- Eating disorders
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Kidney failure
- Phosphate deficiency
- Parathyroid hormone imbalances
How Much Calcium Do I Need?
The Institute of Medicine sets a Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) and Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for calcium. These vary by age and sex. The daily RDA refers to the minimum recommended amount. Some people may need higher doses when recommended by a doctor due to calcium deficiencies.
0-6 months: 200mg/day
7-12 months: 260mg/day
1-3 years: 700mg/day
4-8 years: 1,00mg/day
9-18 years: 1,300mg/day
19-50 years: 1,00mg/day
Breastfeeding or pregnant: 1,00mg/day
51-70 years: 1,200mg/day (women) 1,000mg/day (men)
70+ years: 1,200 mg/day
Notice how the recommended daily allowances increases during childhood and teenage years; this is in due to calcium’s ability to support healthy bones and muscles as we grow. Women over 50 may need a higher dose than men; this is due to the effects of menopause and the higher risks of developing osteoporosis.
Understanding Calcium Supplements
Unfortunately, our bodies don’t produce calcium, which is why we must get it through other sources. Most people can find calcium through their diets by making sure to include a variety of foods. However, in most cases we don’t meet our calcium requirements through our diets, which is why understanding the importance of calcium supplements is so critical.
Finding Calcium in Your Diet
Dietary calcium can be found in various foods and drinks. It is recommended we obtain our calcium from various sources, which is why having a diet that includes calcium-rich foods is so important. To find calcium in your diet, choose:
- Collard Greens: 360mg
- Broccoli: 200mg
- Sardines: 325mg
- Salmon: 180mg
- Ricotta: 335mg
- Milk: 300mg
- Soy Milk: 300mg
- Yogurt: 310mg
- Beans: 160mg
- Fortified Juices: 300mg
Just as important as ingesting calcium-rich foods, you also want to make sure you avoid foods high in oxalates since they can reduce mineral absorption. Foods high in oxalate to look for:
- Beet greens
- Cocoa powder
- Star fruit
- Turnip greens
- Swiss chard
Who Needs Calcium Supplements?
Calcium supplements are the standard defense-mechanism for treating and preventing bone-related diseases such as osteoporosis. According to the National Institutes of Health, roughly 43% of American adults take dietary supplements that include calcium. Finding calcium through your diet alone is challenging. Even healthy children and adults should consider calcium supplements, especially if they:
- Follow a vegan diet
- Are lactose intolerant
- Consume large amounts of protein or sodium
- Have osteoporosis
- Receive long-term treatment with corticosteroids
- Have bowel or digestive diseases that decrease calcium absorption
Calcium supplements are also important for women who have reached menopause.
Types of Calcium Supplements
When looking at calcium supplements, it is important to know that there are different kinds of calcium compounds used. Each calcium compound contains various amounts of mineral calcium, often referred to as elemental calcium.
The main forms of calcium supplements include carbonate and citrate. Sometimes calcium supplements are combined with vitamins and other minerals, as it is in the case of calcium with vitamin D supplements. When looking for a calcium supplement, consider:
- Calcium Carbonate – contains 40% elemental calcium.
- Calcium Lactate – contains 13% elemental calcium.
- Calcium Gluconate – contains 9% elemental calcium.
- Calcium Citrate – contains 21% elemental calcium.
How to Choose Calcium Supplements?
When looking at calcium supplements, there are various things to take into consideration to make sure the supplement you choose is exactly what your body needs. This will also help reduce the possibility of suffering side effects.
The Amount of Calcium: First of all, look at the amount of elemental calcium. This is the actual amount of calcium your body will absorb. For example, if your calcium supplement is 40% elemental calcium that means your 1,250mg supplement of calcium carbonate contains 500mg of elemental calcium.
Tolerability: It’s common for people to experience bloating, constipation, and gas when taking calcium supplements. Look for ones with Sorbitol added to the formula to prevent common digestive issues.
Prescription Interactions: Calcium supplements can interact with your prescription medications, such as blood pressure medications. Depending on your prescriptions, you may have to take your calcium supplement with meals or between meals. Always ask your doctor about possible interactions before taking a new supplement.
Supplement Form: Today, calcium supplements are available in tablets, caplets, chews, powders, and liquids. Choose the calcium supplement that fits your needs.
Absorbability: Lastly, make sure your body can absorb the calcium in your supplement. Some supplements choose to add vitamin D, as it helps improve calcium absorption.
Things to Watch For
Our bodies need calcium to work at full capacity. However, taking too much calcium can have scary side effects and pose health risks that range from kidney disease and heart problems to bone tumors. Keep in mind that even at standard doses, some calcium supplements may cause bloating and constipation.
If you take any prescription medications, calcium supplements may have negative interactions with the drugs. Heart disease, diabetes, and epilepsy drugs often interact with calcium supplements. High doses of calcium can also increase the risk of heart attacks, the risks of developing kidney stones, and affect the body’s ability to absorb other minerals such as iron and zinc.
Always make sure to take calcium within one to two hours apart from other medications to avoid side effects and interactions. Make sure you’re choosing high-quality calcium supplements that contain formulas designed to nourish your bones healthily.