What is calcium and why might I need more?
Calcium is an essential mineral that your body needs every day. Calcium plays a number of important roles in the body. A deficiency can cause numerous adverse health issues. Calcium is the major constituent of bones and teeth. More than 98% of the body’s calcium is found in those structures. In the rest of the body, calcium supports heart function, circulation, nerve function and muscle tone.
If insufficient calcium results from poor dietary intake, the body can "rob" calcium from the bones to make up the shortage. When this happens, low peak bone mass can result; this means that there will be a low amount of bone mass present at maturity. Low peak bone mass can be a contributing factor to the development of a potentially crippling disease of weak, thin, fragile bones called osteoporosis. More than 25 million people in the United States have this multifactorial disease, which is also affected by race, sex, heredity, body stature, diet, exercise level and lifestyle. Excess alcohol consumption and smoking are also considered risk factors in osteoporosis. Building and maintaining good bone health through adequate calcium intake throughout life is linked to a reduced risk of osteoporosis by optimizing bone mass. Calcium intake exceeding 200% of the recommended daily intake (2000 mg) has no further known benefit.
At what age is calcium intake important?
Very simply, at all ages. Calcium is important to infant development, childhood development when bones are growing, during childbearing and during adulthood to keep bones healthy and strong.
Can’t I get enough calcium from my diet?
Infant formulas and some baby foods are rich in calcium, as is breast milk, so babies and infants probably get enough. Once off of those sources, getting enough calcium becomes more difficult. It is generally recognized by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences that from ages four through adult, optimal calcium Dietary Reference Intakes for good health range from 800 to 1200 mg daily. To get that from the diet requires that an individual ingest two to three servings of dairy products per day, plus several servings of protein, vegetables, grains and fruits. This is difficult for many people.
Many individuals are sensitive to dairy products, casein, lactose or other dairy proteins. These individuals find it very challenging to obtain enough dietary calcium.
What affects calcium absorption from my diet?
Fiber-rich foods and plant foods containing phytic acid can negatively affect the absorption of calcium, as can caffeine. Excess fat, salt and soft drinks also have a negative effect.
It is better to spread calcium intake out over the day instead of taking it all at once. Studies show that when too much calcium is in the body at once, absorption is diminished.
Vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium, so it is important to make sure your diet contains sufficient amounts of that nutrient. Vitamin D is stored in the body, so it is not necessary to consume the vitamin D at the same time as the calcium; however, many calcium supplements contain small amounts of vitamin D as a precautionary measure. Older adults without sunlight exposure and with poor diets are most at risk to be deficient in vitamin D.
What kind of calcium supplement should I take?
There are many excellent calcium supplements available on the market. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are the most popular sources, with calcium carbonate being by far the most abundant. Both calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are excellent sources and are well-absorbed. The New England Journal of Medicine (1987) reported that these forms of calcium had similar absorption profiles to the calcium found in milk, and these results have been confirmed in subsequent studies.
Calcium carbonate is best absorbed when taken with food. Individuals with the condition achlorhydria (missing stomach acid) seem to absorb calcium citrate better, though the difference is minimized when calcium carbonate is taken with food.
There is one form of calcium that has shown some advantages in absorption properties. The form is known as calcium bis-glycinate chelate, which is produced by Albion® Laboratories Inc., of Clearfield, Utah.
What other quality issues do I need to be concerned about when choosing calcium supplements?
Poor quality calcium supplements may contain a higher lead content than is desirable. The United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) and the Food Chemicals Codex are considered standards for quality materials used in supplements. The lead tolerance in these publications is three parts per million (ppm), an acceptable level to the Food and Drug Administration. Most reputable companies have adopted these standards. It can also be pointed out that several high-quality pharmaceutical grades of calcium are also available that have lead levels far below the 3 ppm accepted standard.
Another issue in quality calcium supplements is disintegration and dissolution standards of the dosage form. A product must dissolve in the body to do any good. Check with your manufacturer to ensure that its calcium products meet USP standards.
Finally, look carefully at the label of the calcium supplement you are thinking about buying. The requirements for calcium intake refer to elemental calcium. Your supplement should be supplying the total amount of the mineral calcium, not an amount of the calcium salt. For example, a supplement should be supplying 600 mg of elemental calcium, not 600 mg of calcium carbonate. If a supplement supplied 600 mg of calcium carbonate, it would only be providing 216 mg of elemental calcium. If in doubt, call the manufacturer. Calcium is too important to your health to have a deficiency.
Can I take too much calcium?
The National Institute of Health and the Journal of the American Medical Association seem to agree that most people can safely consume up to 2000 mg per day of calcium.
Kirkman’s calcium supplements
Kirkman® manufactures all of its calcium products with pharmaceutical grade, low-lead calcium-containing raw materials. All Kirkman® calcium products are formulated to meet USP specifications for disintegration and/or dissolution for calcium supplements.