Calcium Supplementation

February 23, 2010

Yesterday I told you why you need calcium, how much to get, and how to get it. I often get asked about calcium supplements, either because people don’t like dairy or they find it difficult to take in the required amount from food. While I believe that nutrients should come primarily from food, I do think that calcium is one of the few nutrients that need to be supplemented. It’s very rare for people to get all the calcium they need from food sources.

There are a few things to consider when taking calcium supplements:Calcium Supplement

  1. Calcium supplements come in different forms, primarily calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. The main difference between the two is the amount of elemental calcium the supplement contains. There is more elemental calcium in calcium carbonate than calcium citrate, so you won’t need to take as many supplements if you choose the carbonate.
  2. Not all calcium consumed will be absorbed. Calcium absorption depends on vitamin D levels, how acidic the environment in your intestines is (the more acidic the better), and the type of calcium (goes back to point 1).
  3. Choose supplements that contain the letters USP on the label. This indicates that the product meets the purity and dissolution standards established by the U.S. Pharmacopoeia. Simply put, it means that the pill will dissolve in an appropriate amount of time, and therefore be absorbed.
  4. Take your calcium supplements with meals if possible.
  5. Don’t take calcium supplements with a multivitamin/mineral. Calcium binds with iron and zinc, minerals found in a multivitamin. Therefore, if you take calcium with a multivitamin, less calcium will be absorbed.
  6. Calcium is better absorbed in smaller amounts, so get a supplement that contains 500 or 600 mg per pill. If you can’t find smaller doses, split larger ones in half and take at different times of the day.
  7. Look for a calcium supplement that contains at least 200 IU vitamin D (400 IU is best).

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  1. Interesting and informative article. While I agree that calcium is of extreme importance (bone health, heart health, and muscle health), I must disagree that it is important to supplement, and I certainly disagree with supplementing with 1,000+ mg of calcium on top of whatever you get in your diet. If you’re curious as to why, I’d encourage you to read my article here: http://healthheralds.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/does-calcium-really-build-strong-bones-ill-give-you-three-guesses/

    1. Thanks for your response. I don’t recommend supplementing with 1000 mg on top of what you get in the diet. 1000 mg/day is what adults 19-50 need per day (needs differ for children, adolescents, and older adults), and I always recommend people get their nutrients from food first. The people who need to supplement are those who do not take in enough calcium from their diet alone. With regard to your post, I agree that magnesium is a very important nutrient, but I don’t think magnesium trumps calcium. They are both important and work together to keep bones and muscles healthy.

  2. I can’t really see how magnesium doesn’t trump calcium. Magnesium is the mineral that controls calcium uptake–that is, it controls how much calcium the body absorbs. So basically, you can take in all the calcium you want, but if you don’t have enough magnesium, it doesn’t make a difference. And this is only one of the 300 processes that magnesium is known to be a part of. Other significant ones include a key role in protein synthesis and ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production, which is basically how our cells get energy.

    1. Magnesium does not control calcium uptake. Magnesium and calcium get absorbed through the same channels, so if one of the minerals is already at a low level, deficiency can occur. Both magnesium and calcium are important minerals for many of the body’s processes and it’s important that people get adequate amounts of both minerals.

  3. Magnesium actually does indirectly regulate calcium uptake. Calcium levels in the body are regulated by PTH (parathyroid hormone). This hormone acts to increase the levels of Ca when they are low. However, what’s the biggest inhibitor of parathyroid hormone? You guessed it, low levels of magnesium. So, like I said, unless you have enough magnesium, parathyroid hormone cannot be released, and therefore calcium levels cannot be increased.

  4. Obviously, that’s true. It doesn’t take a nutritionist to know that. But as I just proved, magnesium intake is much more important, and it’s also a MUCH more common deficiency than calcium. Most Americans don’t even get half of the magnesium they should get from their diets.