Most women dutifully pop a daily calcium pill or two on the advice of their doctor, but without understanding the elemental truth about this important dietary supplement.
Calcium is an essential mineral, necessary for the healthy growth of bones & teeth in kids, and to maintain adult bone health. Calcium also helps muscles contract, promotes hormone and enzyme secretion, and supports nerve impulse transmission.
Stores typically carry calcium supplements in the form of citrate or carbonate. Calcium citrate is water soluble, making it easily absorbed by the stomach and small intestine. People tend to experience fewer side effects with calcium citrate, and it is best taken between meals. Calcium carbonate may cause some people indigestion, gas, constipation and headaches. It is best taken with meals because it requires stomach acid for absorption.
It is important to consider the elemental calcium content of your supplement, not just the total calcium content. That means you must read the label and do a bit of math (unless your label specifically lists elemental calcium content). Calcium carbonate is 40 percent calcium by weight, so 1000 mg contains 400 mg of calcium. Calcium citrate is 21 percent elemental calcium so 1000 mg will provide 210 mg of calcium. That means if you want to meet the current recommended daily allowance for calcium for 19-50 year-old men and women (1000 mg), you’ll need to take approximately five - 1000 mg calcium citrate pills or 2 .5 -1000 mg calcium carbonate pills.
Whether you opt for calcium citrate or carbonate, take 500 mg or less of elemental calcium per dose. It’s also best to avoid taking calcium supplements at the same time as any medication that needs to be taken on an empty stomach, or at the same time as antibiotics, iron supplements, thyroid hormones or corticosteroids.
Tip. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends placing your calcium tablet in a glass of warm water for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the tablet hasn’t mostly dissolved in that time, it won’t get absorbed by your stomach.