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Are You Getting The Most From Your Calcium Supplement?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I have previously shared that calcium is an important nutrient you may be missing in your diet. The newly released 2010 Dietary Guidelines lists calcium as a nutrient of concern because intake by many Americans is lower than recommended. There are also reports that getting too much calcium later in life can be detrimental.

Calcium is an essential nutrient, necessary for nerve transmission, hormone secretion, and muscle function in addition to vasodilation and constriction. Ninety-nine percent of the body's calcium supply is found in the bones and teeth. By the time we reach our 30's, we have reached the end of our bone building years. That means the bone building teen and early 20's are important ones for eating right. We can maintain healthy bone mass through healthy eating and this is especially important during our 40's and beyond. Adequate calcium from healthy eating becomes critical especially for post-menopausal women to limit bone breakdown and loss that increases osteoporosis risks. Male and female adults, ages 19-50, need 1,000 milligrams daily and those over age 51 should increase their intake to 1,200 milligrams daily. Males and females between the ages of 9-18 require 1,300 milligrams of calcium each day. A safe daily upper intake level has also been established as 2,500 milligrams for individuals between the ages of 19-50, and 2,000 milligrams for those over the age of 51.

There are many ways to boost your calcium intake but sometimes supplements are still necessary. Are you getting the most from yours?

Sometimes adding beans to soups, chili and pasta dishes or enjoying a smoothie made with yogurt just doesn't provide enough calcium. Don't drink milk? Regardless of why milk isn't in your diet, there are other sources of calcium rich and fortified foods to help you meet your daily needs. Foods such as collard greens, fortified juices, tofu and cereal as well as fortified non-dairy alternatives are included in many healthy diets. Because there are many natural and fortified foods rich in calcium, you may be meeting your estimated needs and taking a supplement unnecessarily and at risk of having too much. For this reason, it is important to talk with your medical provider about the need for a calcium supplement.

When a supplement is recommended, keep these tips in mind.
  • Avoid taking calcium with an iron supplement or a multivitamin with iron because calcium interferes with the absorption of iron which is also important for health.

  • Taking a supplement with food increases digestive secretions that help break down the supplement to increase calcium absorption. However, fiber reduces the absorption of calcium, so take your supplement with a meal or snack but not one that is high in fiber. Some find taking a calcium supplement with an evening snack or a glass of milk or juice before bed to be helpful.

  • Do not use dolomite, bone meal, unrefined oyster shell, or coral calcium as a source of calcium since they can contain lead or other contaminates and are poorly absorbed.

  • Look for supplements made from calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate will be cheaper and will be fine for most people but if you take any acid-blocking medications, select calcium citrate for best absorption. Do not take more than 500 milligrams of elemental calcium at one time since the body can only absorb and use so much at one time. If your medical provider recommends larger doses, take smaller doses several times during the day.

  • Calcium can impede the absorption of some medications such as the antibiotic tetracycline. It is important to talk with your pharmacist or medical provider about proper timing for calcium supplements when taking other medications.

  • If you take calcium supplements and experience gastrointestinal side effects such as gas, bloating, or constipation as well, it could be your supplement especially if you are taking calcium carbonate. To reduce or eliminate these side effects consider taking smaller doses several times a day and switching to calcium citrate, which is reported to cause fewer of these responses. You can also take a combination supplement that includes magnesium especially if constipation is your primary side effect.

  • Vitamin D improves calcium absorption so a combination supplement that includes this vitamin may be beneficial.
A healthy, well-balanced diet can meet the calcium needs of many people. When a stage in life such as adolescents, pregnancy or our older years make that difficult, supplementation allows us to make sure we get what we need. Following a few simple recommendations can ensure your body receives full benefit from the calcium supplement you take.

Do you take a calcium supplement? Which one of these tips provided you with new information to make the most it?

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It was really interesting to note that Calcium should not be taken with Multivitamins.
It was really interesting to note that Calcium should not be taken with Multivitamins.
I have been taking calcium, multivitamin, and vitamins D and C for several months now. I truly feel that I can tell a difference. I know that it has helped my immune system as a cut that normally would have taken days to start healing, started healing overnight!

Great article, very informative. Wished I would have found it when I was searching for answers to my calcium questions. Report
Quite informative. Report
Very good information. Thanks! Report
Thanks. I wasn't aware of the fiber issue--nice to know. Report
Like many others, I had no idea of the effect of iron on calcium absorption. I'm going to check my multivitamin right now! Report
My multivitamin comes in a combo pack with calcium, biotin (hair, skin, nails) and omega 3. Now I understand why my multivitamin doesn't have iron in it.

I take a vitamin D and my omega 3 before my meal, then take my multi, calcium and biotin after my meal. Report
One of my doctors suggested I take calcium supplements, but I'm terrible at remembering. So I try to get it naturally through food. However, I do take a multivitamin with iron since I'm borderline anemic and it's hard to get in a full day's amount only through food sources. It was helpful to learn that if I do remember to take the calcium, not to take it at the same time as the multivitamin. Report
I take calcium with vitamin D and I'm still deficient in D! Had my first bone scan last summer and all is good :) I also take thyroid meds daily and just want to note that you shouldn't take your calcium until 4 hours after your meds. Report
I learned not to take my calcium, with a multivitamin. Ido this a lot, and will now stop. thank you. Report
Thank you! Report
Very good article, and it lead me to realize I'm doing two things wrong. In the mornings I have been taking my calcium at the same time as my multi-vitamin (containing iron). And that's when I most often have a high-fiber meal of oatmeal or other cereals. I need to save my calcium for my other meals or snacks! Thanks! Report
I had gastric bypass in 2007, so I am required to take not only a multivitamin, but also calcium citrate (not carbonate), which I take at least 2 hours after taking my multivitamin. I am required to take about 1200 mg of the calcium citrate, so I take the multivitamin at breakfast, the first dose of calcium at lunch, and the second dose of calcium about mid-afternoon. I also have my blood tested every 6-12 months to be sure that I have enough D, calcium, and B vitamins in my system. Because I have the gastric bypass, food does not absorb into my body as well as someone who hasn't had gastric bypass. So taking my supplements is vital to my health, no matter how healthy my food diet is. (I also take a B-complex, a B12 sublingual, and magnesium daily. And I take a B5/B6, but I was taking this prior to the gastric bypass.) Report
well written, good information and details on how to take the supplements. Report
I take a cal/mag supplement and dr. and diabetes care people told me to take Vit D too. Report
I take calcium with Vitamin D- Viactiv. It was prescribed by my oncologist because of the research on Vitamin D and breast cancer. Report
Taking the Calcium tablets in divided doses. Some supplement directions read take the 3 tabs dose (1000mg with one meal). Since the body will only absorb 500mg at a time I am losing about 500mg from the 1000mg dose. Thank you for this information. Report
Thanks for the information. Report
Great article! Will be changing to calcium citrate once I finish my current bottle! I take it as I've got a history of broken bones over the age of 30 and a bone density scan highlighted then need for a supplement. Report
very informative..I didnt know to take my vitamin D with my calcium and will make the change. Report
Zorbs13 If u have a good diet it isn't a problem. Report
I have understood for a long time that any supplement of calcium needs to have a corresponding percentage of magnesium for proper absorption. That was left out of this article........... Report
thanks! Report
Generally speaking I feel that the majority of people should focus on a healthy balanced diet as the way of getting all their vitamins etc. I'm a strong believer in the various studies that have shown vitamins and minerals consumed in their natural state are better for you than supplements.

However, I do take a calcium + vitamin D supplement. This is because I take prednisolone at high doses very frequently (Crohn's disease!) and this carries a risk of osteoporosis, which a calcium supplement helps counter-act. I have never felt the need to take any other supplements. Report
This article provided a wealth of information. Thanks so much!
Now I need to check on the meds taken with my calcium. Report
I've long been a believer in supplements. Lately I've been tracking my calcium intake on my nutrition tracker. It's been interesting to see how close I come to the recommended levels, at least some of the time. I use that as a guide to know if I need to take my calcium that day or not. I take a good quality calcium citrate-magnesium malate combination that is designed to be taken twice a day. I've found I only need to take it once most day, since I get a fair amount from my food. I usually take it right before going to bed. Report
Did not realize that fiber interferes with my calcium supplement. Thanks! Report
During perimenopause, I had a baseline bone scan, and learned that, in spite of healthy eating, I was osteopenic--that's the first step toward osteoporosis. Not good news, but I've been taking calcium citrate, with D, and hope my next scan (in 3 years) will show happier bones. I've also increased my walking, since my dr. recommended weight-bearing cardio.

I had no bone density issues until recently so I would answer the first poster, ZORB, that, without a bone scan (a good one--hip, spine, not just ankle) it's not safe to make assumptions--even you, who are a trainer, *could* be surprised! Report
I will be switching to calcium citrate and watching out for iron in multi vitamins. Thanks for the information. Report
I did not realize that iron interferes with calcium absorption. I will have to revamp my supplement intake to separate the calcium. Report
Calcium supplement has been a part of my health program seems like forever. I am very active, working outside on the ranch and find that my bones seem to be able to "take a real beating" in many instances so put that down to the supplement and weight bearing exercise Report
Thank you for the information on Calcium Supplement.
I have stop taking calcium because I suffer with constipation. Now I
Know that I was taking calcium carbonate instead of calcium citrate. I will go back
Taking my calcium again. Thank you. Report
Good Stuff! Report
Great information.......I learned so much from this article. I know I don't get enough calcium and will add the proper supplement. Report
I have mixed feelings about supplements. I firmly believe that if a person is eating a balanced diet, they shouldn't need supplements. A person should be getting all the vital nutrients they need from the foods they eat. However, because so many Americans qualify as malnourished, many doctors recommend that their patients take a daily supplement, if only to cover all the bases.

Because I'm starting to show signs of peri-menopause, I have been doing more reading about taking supplements to decrease my risk of osteoporosis as a result of menopause. Does it work ? I don't know because I've read in multiple sources that what really impacts a woman's bone health is strength training. So, if I am strength training to maintain my lean muscle, does that mean I should still take a calcium supplement ? Also, I hope women don't think that if they are taking a calcium supplement that they think that's all they need to maintain their bone health.

The information on supplements is really confusing.
I was unaware of the differences between calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. I was not aware that calcium could block absorption of tetracycline. Thank you for the article. Report
I take GNC's calcium citrate malate w/vitamin D. Also was not aware of iron issue. Report
was not aware of the effect of iron - Thank You Report
Great advice on the MVI - I didn't know that. I'll make some changes to my routine, thanks! Report
I have been taking calcium WITH my multivitamin - OOPS Report
I had no idea you should only be taking 500 mg at one time. As always, great information! Report
I'm wondering if you need a calcium supplement if you don't have any history of bone density issues. Report
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