THE BLOG

Should I Be Taking a Calcium Supplement?

08/19/2014 11:25am ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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It's human nature to find an easy way out of any situation, even when it comes to nutrition. Therefore, it's no wonder that more and more people turn to supplements in the form of pills, powders and tinctures rather than eat whole food to obtain necessary nutrients. It's not unusual to hear a busy businessman say, "I take a handful of pills with a super-food smoothie at breakfast and then eat whatever I want for the rest of the day."

Is this a good idea? Absolutely not! Your body needs a delicate balance of macronutrients -- protein, carbohydrates and fat -- and micronutrients -- vitamins, minerals and trace minerals -- plus antioxidants and phytochemicals that occur naturally in a well-balanced diet of wholesome foods and are not easily mimicked in a laboratory -- even if supplements are made from natural ingredients.

Calcium is an essential mineral for bones and teeth. Making sure to get enough of it over a lifetime can help prevent osteoporosis. For most people, a well-balanced diet often provides enough calcium so supplementation is not required. A recently revised U.S.-Canadian dietary guideline states that no increase in calcium intake is required for either pregnant or lactating women. For the elderly, meeting calcium needs may be an issue but a registered dietitian referred by a physician best assesses this. Calcium is found in dairy products like yogurt and milk, leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, beans, tofu, some fish, calcium-fortified foods like some breakfast cereals and calcium-enriched foods like some brands of soy milk and almond milk.

The two main forms of calcium pills are:

  1. Calcium carbonate found in many over the counter antacid products like Tums and Rolaids.
  • Calcium citrate, which is a more easily absorbed form of calcium.
  • According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the total amount of calcium adults need every day from food or calcium supplements:

    • 19-50 years: 1,000 mg/day
    • 51-70 years: Men -- 1,000 mg/day; Women -- 1,200 mg/day
    • 71 years and over: 1,200 mg/day

    Vitamin D is needed to help absorb calcium. Try to choose calcium supplements that also contain vitamin D.

    Avoid supplements made from oyster shell, bone meal, or dolomite. They may contain lead or other toxins. Never take more than 500 milligrams of calcium at a time. It is best to take small doses, throughout the day rather than one large dose. This improves absorption. Calcium supplements can cause gas, bloating and constipation. Therefore, it's important to drink plenty of water and eat a high fiber diet.

    According to the Mayo Clinic:

    • Calcium supplements can interact with medications including antibiotics, bisphosphonates and high blood pressure medications.
    • Calcium supplements are best taken at a different time from your multivitamin or a meal rich in iron, magnesium or zinc.
    • Taking extra calcium over a prolonged time may increase the risk of kidney stones.

    According to sciencebasedmedicine.org, there is sufficient evidence to recommend against supplementation with over 1,000 milligrams/day of calcium and over 400 IU/day of vitamin D, especially in postmenopausal women and older men.

    According to my book Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Heathy, a diet high in low-fat dairy like low-fat yogurt and low-fat fresh cheeses and leafy green vegetables, along with an active outdoor lifestyle should provide adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D for most individuals. It is always best to seek the advice of your registered dietitian and physician before making changes to your diet and activity levels.

    Layne Lieberman, WorldRD and/or respective entities expressly disclaim any and all responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk, personal or otherwise, which may be or is incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application of any advice, information or comments by Layne Lieberman, WorldRD and/or respective entities.

    Always seek the advice of a trained health professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before seeking any treatment. Proper medical attention should always be sought for specific ailments. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking medical treatment due to information obtained elsewhere. The information provided by Layne Lieberman, WorldRD and /or entities is not intended to replace proper medical care.