Choosing the right calcium supplement may seem as challenging as solving a puzzle. However, product labels provide clues to help you identify the form of calcium that suits your needs.
Look closely for the source of the calcium, the quantity of tablets or capsules to achieve the daily dosage and the proper timing for best absorption.
Understanding the sources of calcium is more important than looking for high milligrams.
Calcium supplements are derived from many different sources, each with its own unique characteristics, rather similar to a fingerprint.
If the label lists calcium citrate as its source, you're getting a reliable, highly recommended form of calcium. It is well absorbed and can be taken anytime, even on an empty stomach. To get 1,000 milligrams of calcium, you might need to take four tablets or six capsules. It's best to divide your doses and take about 500 milligrams at one time.
Calcium carbonate, a popular and inexpensive calcium, may seem to be a better value at first glance, but it is more difficult to absorb. This form of calcium must be taken with food, because it depends on stomach acid to dissolve.
Carbonate may have side effects: constipation, nausea, gas and even acid rebound.
Coral calcium is just a glorified form of calcium carbonate. Its' reputation is tainted with unproven health claims, overpricing and possible contamination.
Other sources of calcium to avoid are oyster shells, bone meal or dolomite, all which may contain lead or other heavy metals.
Calcium from food is well absorbed, especially greens and beans, yogurt, certain cheeses, dried figs and almonds.
Canned wild salmon and sardines (with bones) contain significant amounts of calcium. If your diet is low in natural calcium sources and you rely on supplements, do not take your calcium (or other vitamins or medications) at the same time your take a concentrated fiber such as psyllium (Metamucil) or wheat bran. Take your fiber at least an hour later, so that it doesn't soak up and remove those supplements from your body. Tums is not recommended as a source of calcium because it neutralizes the very stomach acid required for calcium absorption. That is also true for over-the-counter or prescription antacids.
Most experts recommend taking magnesium supplements along with calcium, 500 milligrams of magnesium for each 1,000 milligrams of calcium.
Magnesium acts as a solvent to help keep calcium in solution. Magnesium deficiency may contribute to calcium being deposited in joints and arteries, writes Susan E. Brown, author of "Better Bones, Better Body."
Weight bearing exercises and adequate vitamin D intake, along with food sources of calcium plus moderate supplementation, seem to offer the best bone protection.
The catchy slogan "Got Milk?' is in hot water lately. A review of a 12-year nurses study, involving 78,000 women, revealed that nurses who drank the most milk (two or more glasses daily) broke more bones than women who rarely drank it. Cornell University professor Colin Campbell isn't surprised.
He's studied calcium consumption around the world, and reports that the more calcium people consume, the more susceptible they seem to be to hip fractures. North Americans and Europeans take in much more calcium and break more bones than Asians and Africans, who have the lowest intake.
Other studies showed that the more calcium women consumed, the less they absorbed: 45 percent at low intakes, 15 percent at intakes above 2,000 milligrams.
Excessive calcium consumption has been associated with increased risk of prostate cancer, kidney stones, arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
Scientific review of two large studies of both men and women concluded that most of the reduction in bone loss with calcium supplements took place only in the first year or two. After this no lasting benefits were seen in bone mineral density. Calcium and mild intake did not appear to be associated with lower hip fracture risk.
Andrew Weil, an alternative physician, recently lowered his recommendations for calcium supplementation to 700 milligrams for women and none at all for men, assuming 300 milligrams of calcium from dietary sources daily.
He quotes Harvard's Walter Willet, "Inadequate calcium intake is probably not the primary cause for thinning bones.if you want to prevent bone fractures, forget the milk and take your cow for a walk."
The information in this article is for educational purposes. Consult your physician if you have a medical condition.
Margot Bennett is a licensed nutritionist at Mother Nature's Pantry, located in the Garden Square Shoppes, 4513 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. Call her at (561) 626-4461.