A Beginner’s Guide to Calcium

Calcium is the most common mineral in the human body, primarily in our bones, but it is also used by our body for blood clotting, muscle contractions, and overall cellular function. And I’m talking body cells, not phones here.

Your body uses calcium on a daily basis to keep those cellular functions working properly, and your body is so keyed to maintaining the proper level that if your intake doesn’t meet the bodies needs it will start to take it from it’s master reserves, your bones. Unfortunately this means it is very difficult to detect calcium deficiencies from your diet, because if you do fall short, your body just takes from your bones what it needs. So unlike other vitamins and minerals, a deficiency doesn’t just show up in your normal blood work. While there are ways to get an idea if you are low by checking Parathyroid Hormone (PTH) and Vitamin D3 levels, calcium deficiency is all to easy to overlook until you are already pretty far in to osteoporosis (which translates to porous bones).

Simply put, unless you know for sure you are getting sufficient calcium from your dietary intake, nearly everyone can benefit from at least some supplemental calcium.

Types of Calcium

While there are a few different types of calcium supplements out there, the one you’ll find the most is calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is the most readily found type of calcium in nature, it’s found in all sorts of rocks and things like sea shells. This makes it easy to get, and inexpensive to produce for market. However, calcium carbonate needs a fairly acidic environment in order for your body to make use of it. So for those taking medications for things like ulcers or acid reflux, or those with other medical conditions that lead to reduced stomach acid (such as gastric bypass or some other weight loss surgeries), you should not be taking calcium carbonate as a supplemental source of calcium. Also, because of the need for acid to break it down, calcium carbonate supplements should be taken with meals, when the body is more actively producing stomach acids.

Calcium citrate is the salt side of citric acid, and does not require an acidic environment for the body to make use of it the way calcium carbonate does, so it is the preferred form of calcium for those in such a situation. Additionally, since it does not rely on stomach acid production to be absorbed, calcium citrate can be taken on an empty stomach. Calcium citrate is not as common as calcium carbonate, so will tend to be slightly more expensive.

Daily Intake

For most adults, 1000mg of calcium is recommended daily. This can come from your normal diet as well as from additional supplements. An additional 2-500mg is recommended for teens, adults over 50, pregnant and menopausal women.

Since the nutritional labels on food items are based on 1000mg per day, you can add a 0 to the percent of daily intake listed on a label to see how many mg you are getting from a food item. For example, a typical glass of milk will say it has 30% of the recommended daily requirement of calcium, so this 30% equals 300mg.

It’s also important to note, that in order for your body to properly make use of calcium, you need Vitamin D, D3 to be more specific. That’s why for most supplements you buy will contain Vitamin D. If you are buying a supplement, be sure to check the label.

Additionally, calcium blocks the absorption of iron so you should not take iron (or multivitamins containing iron) for a period of two hours before to two hours after taking calcium. And the body can only absorb about 500-600mg of calcium at any one time. Most supplements will be 500mg per 2-pill dose, so if you are taking supplements, be sure to space the doses out about 4-6 hours apart.

And if you didn’t already need a reason to cut back on your cola drinking, it’s being found that drinking cola on a regular basis can lead to reduced calcium absorption. It’s being linked to a possible combination of the caffeine and phosphoric acid found in colas versus other caffeinated beverages.

The recommended daily maximum for calcium is about two and a half times the daily recommended dose, or about 2500mg for a normal, healthy adult.

Additional Sources

Is Calcium Citrate Better Than Calcium Carbonate? [healthcastle.com]
Suggested Daily Calcium Intake [bayerhearts.com]
Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet [nih.gov]
Soda and Osteoporosis: Is There a Connection? [web.md]

Image Credits: Ragesoss

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