Approximately 43% of Americans are deficient in calcium. For women, especially menopausal or older women, the percentage can increase to over 70%.
Calcium is an essential mineral the body needs to maintain proper bone health, but it is also vital for other specific bodily functions such as digestion, muscle movement, blood circulation, proper nutrient absorption, hormone and enzyme balance and it plays key role in helping messages in the brain get to where they’re supposed to go in the body. Women are more prone to developing a deficiency in calcium especially those with dairy intolerances, digestive or hormonal issues or even other conditions that can affect the level of calcium their bodies absorb (eg: conditions concerning either the heart or liver systems).
When the body is deficient in calcium, it feeds from the ‘reserve’ of the mineral stored in the muscles and bones. If the ‘reserve’ is used up to the point where there is not much left to take from, the body will be unable to perform properly causing severe health issues.
A well-balanced diet is the best way to ensure the body is getting enough calcium. For those whose diets may fall short, a calcium supplement could be a good option. It’s important, however, to understand how much calcium the body needs, the pros and cons of taking supplements as well as which supplement is best-suited to overall health balance.
Benefits of calcium. The body needs calcium to keep bones strong and healthy. The body doesn’t produce calcium on its own it must be consumed from other sources. When the body is deficient of calcium over a long period of time, it can lead to other health issues related to having weak bones such as children not reaching potential adult height, vulnerability to bone fractures and osteoporosis. According to MayoClinic.com, ongoing research has suggested that calcium and vitamin D also help to prevent certain kinds of cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.
How much calcium do you need? Calcium is found naturally in many foods including dairy, dark green leafy vegetables, fish, and calcium-fortified foods such as soy products, cereal and juice. If you aren’t eating enough of these foods or you are following a vegan diet, are lactose intolerant, eat a large amount of protein or sodium, have osteoporosis, or have certain bowel or digestive issues (particularly irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease) a supplement is a good idea.
The ideal amount of daily calcium greatly depends on an individual’s age and sex. According to the Institute of Medicine, the following are the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for the safe ranges of calcium for adults. It should be noted that exceeding the maximum level can lead to other health issues related to too much calcium.
- Men between 19 and 70 need between 1000 and 2500 mg/day and those over 71 need between 1200 and 2000 mg/day.
- Women between 19 and 50 need between 1000 and 2500 mg/day while those 51 and older need between 1200 and 2000 mg/day.
- Pregnant women and breast-feeding women 19 to 50 need between 1000 and 2500 mg/day.
Types of calcium supplements. With so many different brands available to choose from, it can be confusing to understand which to go with. So, how does someone choose supplement that’s the right fit? It depends completely on individual needs, preferences and doctor’s recommendations are. What should be understood is that calcium is found alongside other compounds that actually make up the supplement. And each compound contains different amounts of elemental calcium. Some of these include calcium carbonate (40% elemental calcium), calcium citrate (21% elemental calcium), calcium gluconate (9% elemental calcium), and calcium lactate (13% elemental calcium).
It’s important to read labels to ensure that the supplement has everything the body needs, as well as to make sure it contains both magnesium and vitamin D, which help the body break down the calcium. As well, for those with fish or shellfish allergies, many calcium supplements are derived from oyster shells. And certain types of medication can interfere with the digestive system’s ability to absorb the calcium supplement effectively. All of this information is vital in choosing the right supplement to ensure all health or dietary concerns are met.
The following are additional tips to consider in choosing the best calcium supplement:
- Forms of calcium supplements. The most common form is tablets which are swallowed. For those who aren’t able to or have difficulty with swallowing pills, other options include chewables, liquids or powders.
- Amount of elemental calcium. The elemental calcium in the supplement is what the body absorbs for bone growth. It’s important to understand how much elemental calcium is in the supplement, either by listing amount in milligrams or in daily percentage, as well as the dose or the amount of tablets needed daily. A good nutritionist, the pharmacist or doctor can offer clarification in this area.
- Side effects. As with any supplement or medication, there are side effects. If any unpleasantness or uncomfortable symptoms occur after starting the supplement, the patient should stop taking them immediately and try another recommended brand until something works.
- Other medications. As noted earlier, there are certain types of medications that can interfere with the effectiveness of how well the body absorbs the calcium. Also be sure to inquire to the nutritionist, pharmacist or physician how any other medications may interfere with absorption.
- Absorbability. Chewables and liquid calcium supplements are absorbed more easily than others. A good tip is to taking a calcium supplement with food so it is absorbed with the other nutrients that are being consumed.
- When to take calcium supplements: Generally, they are safe to take at any point in the day, but certain circumstances can affect when to take the supplement such as:
- (a) the amount. Calcium is absorbed best when taken in small doses so if you need to take 1000 mg/day, try breaking it down in a few smaller doses.
- (b) additional supplements. Calcium can affect, and be affected by, other supplements so a physician or nutritionist can offer advice on how to divvy up supplements throughout the day.
- (c) medications. It is strongly recommended not to take calcium at the same times as other medications, but your physician and or nutritionist can also help assist with this.
- (d) meals. Certain forms of calcium are actually better absorbed with meals, particularly calcium carbonate, and may reduce any stomach upset.
Calcium is a vital nutritional element the body needs for optimal bone and overall health. If there isn’t enough consumed from diet alone, choosing the best calcium supplement using the tips and suggestions listed here may be an important inclusion.
Calcium and Calcium Supplements: Achieving the Right Balance, MayoClinic.com, December 2011
Institute of Medicine