Calcium is an essential mineral in our diet, and makes up roughly 2% of an adult’s body weight. It is a critical aspect of our bone growth, development and maintenance throughout our entire lives, which is why a deficiency of this mineral is such a serious problem. Fortunately, there are many different calcium supplements on the market to ensure that we get the recommended amount of calcium that our body needs to function and support itself properly.
What Are Calcium Supplements?
Calcium supplements are ways to get your daily recommended amount of calcium up to its proper levels – roughly 1,000-1,200 milligrams per day for men and women. These calcium supplements are tablets or pills with concentrated levels of calcium, and tend to come in two forms: calcium carbonate and calcium citrate.
Calcium carbonate is the more concentrated of the two, with each pill composed of roughly 40% calcium, but it requires stomach acid to be dissolved and absorbed by the body. Therefore, these pills need to be eaten with your meals.
Calcium citrate is weaker, providing only 20% calcium in each pill, but they can be taken on an empty stomach, as they do not require stomach acid to be dissolved. Elderly patients suffering from calcium deficiency more commonly use calcium citrate, as stomach acid production slows down as we age.
Since calcium can only be absorbed and used in small amounts by the body, most calcium supplements range from 150-500 milligrams and are taken 1-2 times per day, depending on how poor your calcium levels are, and how much calcium your typical diet includes. Many supplements also include other minerals in which people are commonly deficient, such as magnesium and vitamin D.
Speak with your doctor about which of the following calcium supplements may be best for you.
List of Calcium Supplements
- Tums 500
- Os-Cal 500
- Caltrate 600
- Viactiv Calcium Chews
- GNC Calcium Complete
- Cluebonnet Calcium Citrate Magnesium and Vitamin D3
- Rainbow Light Mini-Tablets
- Swanson Calcium Citrate and Vitamin D
- Solgar Calcium Citrate
- Twinlab Calcium Citrate Caps
Why Do You Need Calcium?
As mentioned earlier, calcium is required by the body for bone mineral density, and a deficiency in this mineral will increase the risk of osteoporosis, as well as osteopenia. Some of the common symptoms of calcium deficiency include fainting, muscle weakness, psoriasis, brittle nails, tooth decay, seizures, itching, problems swallowing and numbness in the fingers and toes.
Aside from bone strength and durability, calcium is also needed by the body for proper nerve communication and function, as well as for the contraction of muscles throughout the body. Calcium plays a role in protecting cardiac muscle, controlling blood pressure, strengthening the teeth and gums, transporting nutrients throughout the body and keeping the pH balance of the body in line.
Clearly, deficiencies in this important mineral must be taken seriously, due to their comprehensive effects on health.
Food Sources of Calcium
While supplements are always available to increase your daily intake of calcium, there are also many calcium-rich foods that are easy to incorporate into your daily diet.
- Bok Choy
- Green Beans
- Sesame Seeds
Benefits of Calcium Supplements
Calcium supplements can be very effective for improving bone strength, particularly as you age, after a major injury, illness or surgery, or if you are already at high risk for osteoporosis (due to contributing health factors). These supplements can also help in the prevention of arthritis and to help maintain your weight. Furthermore, since so many calcium supplements include magnesium, vitamin D and other commonly deficient vitamins, use of these nutritional supplements can help your body in many other ways too!
Side Effects of Calcium Supplements
The regular use of calcium supplements can have certain negative side effects, such as constipation, excess gas, nausea, irregular heartbeat, muscle pain, dry mouth, headaches or dizziness. These are mainly experienced when you suffer from hypercalcemia, which means your body is taking in too much calcium. When calcium is taken in large concentrations, the body is unable to process all of it at once, so it could begin depositing it in the wrong places.
This sort of excessive calcium in the body can lead to problems with the kidneys, muscles, stomach, bones and even the brain, causing irritability and even depression. If you experience ongoing symptoms of sore muscles and joints, pain in your back and spine, decreased appetite or excessive urination, you are likely suffering from too much calcium.
Speak to your doctor or nutritionist before adding calcium supplements to your daily intake; if your diet already accounts for the daily recommended amount of calcium, there is no need to take supplements.
Things to Consider While Taking Calcium Supplements
Before you choose to take calcium supplements, there are a few things to consider, namely your age, diet, pre-existing medical conditions and prescribed medications.
Age: Depending on how old you are, as well as your gender, you may require more or less calcium. Women under 50 and men under 70 only require 1,000 milligrams a day, where as women over 50 and men over 70 require approximately 1,200 milligrams per day. As your age changes, if your diet doesn’t, you may want to consider supplementing with calcium to keep your bones strong.
Diet: While there are many different foods that can deliver calcium, certain dietary choices and styles may inherently keep your calcium content low. Vegans tend to lack calcium, as they don’t include dairy products in their diet, which is a great and consistent source of calcium. Furthermore, people who consume foods that are high in protein or sodium tend to lose more calcium through urination, which can lead to osteoporosis, even if your intake of calcium seems acceptable.
Medical Conditions: Certain diseases and conditions demand more calcium from the body, prevent calcium absorption, or cause excessive calcium loss. If you have suffer from chronic inflammation, Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease, the condition may be preventing calcium absorption in the gut, and calcium supplements may be a good thing. However, if you are at high risk for kidney stones or prostate cancer, high levels of calcium could heighten that risk.
Medications: The use of corticosteroids is quite common for chronic disease, and this can lower the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Furthermore, if you are taking antibiotics, it can interfere with how your body takes in calcium, so supplements may be required.
Other Mineral Deficiencies: Some of the body’s receptors for nutrients are shared, so calcium, iron and zinc are often in competition in the gut to be absorbed and used. If you have other mineral deficiencies, it may be wise to space out your supplements, rather than taking them all at once, so that your body can properly process each of them.