Calcium Supplements: Benefits, Risks (Are They Right For You)
These days a significant number of people resort to calcium supplements with the hope of fortifying their bones and promoting overall bone health. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that these supplements may come with certain drawbacks and even pose potential risks to one’s health.
Extensive research has shed light on the possible adverse effects of calcium supplementation, particularly concerning the increased risk of heart disease (1).
To ensure a comprehensive understanding of the subject, this article aims to provide you with essential information about the Ca supplement, including who should consider taking them, the potential health benefits they offer, and the associated risks that need to be considered.
The Benefits Of Calcium Supplements
Your body requires calcium for constructing and sustaining sturdy bones. About 99% of the calcium within your body is stored in your bones and teeth (2).
Within the bloodstream, calcium plays a vital role in transmitting nerve signals, facilitating the release of hormones such as insulin, and regulating the contraction and dilation of muscles and blood vessels.
Calcium is important because if you fail to consume the recommended amount of this mineral through your diet, your body will extract it from your skeletal system and teeth to fulfill other essential functions, weakening your bones.
Now, you may wonder about the daily requirement of calcium.
According to the Institute of Science, here are the recommendations for calcium intake for different people (3).
- Women of age 50 and younger should have around 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day
- Men of ages 70 and younger should have around 1,000 mg of calcium per day
- Women who are over the age of 50 should have around 1,200 mg of calcium per day
- Men who are over the age of 70 should have around 1,200 mg of calcium per day
Moving on to the benefits of taking calcium supplements, we discuss the pointers in detail.
- Prevention of Bone Loss in Women Post Menopause
Postmenopausal women often experience bone loss due to a decrease in estrogen levels. However, there are potential solutions to this issue.
Research suggests that calcium supplements may be beneficial in mitigating bone loss in postmenopausal women. Studies indicate that a daily calcium intake of approximately 1,000 mg can reduce bone loss by 1-2% (4).
This effect is more pronounced among women with low calcium intake and during the initial two years of supplementation. Taking larger doses does not provide any additional advantages.
Moreover, a comprehensive 2022 analysis involving over 7,000 participants under 35 found that calcium supplementation improved bone mass (5).
Furthermore, recent studies have emphasized the effectiveness of combining calcium supplements with vitamin D instead of calcium alone in promoting bone health and addressing osteoporosis concerns.
- It Can Aid in Weight Loss
Adequate calcium intake may support fat loss efforts: low calcium intake, higher body mass index (BMI), and increased body fat percentage correlate.
In a 2013 study focusing on college students with overweight and obesity and had very low calcium intakes, participants were administered a daily calcium supplement of 600 mg along with 125 international units (IUs) of vitamin D. The results showed that those who received the calcium and vitamin D supplement experienced greater body fat reduction when following a calorie-restricted diet compared to those who did not receive the supplement.
It is often advised to combine vitamin D with calcium supplementation due to the beneficial impact of vitamin D on the body’s calcium absorption process.
- Calcium Helps Lower Colon Cancer Risks
Evidence suggests that calcium vitamin intake, whether from dairy products or supplements, may play a role in reducing the risk of colon cancer. A significant study has indicated that consuming calcium through these sources may contribute to a lower likelihood of developing colon cancer (6).
Furthermore, a comprehensive analysis conducted in 2022, which examined 37 studies, revealed a noteworthy finding. It showed that for every 300 mg of calcium taken daily, there was a 6% decrease in the risk of colorectal cancer (7).
- Improvement of Metabolic Markers
Existing studies have provided insights into the potential benefits of calcium supplementation for women, particularly when combined with vitamin D, on various metabolic markers.
In a 2016 study involving 42 pregnant individuals, the administration of calcium and vitamin D supplements resulted in improved metabolic markers, such as blood pressure and indicators of inflammation (8).
Furthermore, research has indicated that children whose mothers took calcium supplements in pregnant doses displayed lower blood pressure levels at the age of 7 compared to children whose mothers did not take such supplements.
In a recent study, over 100 women with overweight and polycystic ovary syndrome, who were also vitamin D deficient, were given either a calcium and vitamin D supplement or a placebo. The group that received the supplement demonstrated enhancements in markers related to inflammation, insulin, and triglyceride levels.
However, it is worth noting that certain studies have reported no significant improvements in metabolic profiles among participants who took supplements containing both calcium and vitamin D while following calorie-restricted diets.
Who Can Take Calcium Supplements?
When your calcium intake is inadequate, your body resorts to extracting calcium from your bones, which can weaken and brittle bones, potentially resulting in osteoporosis.
Given that women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, many healthcare professionals recommend calcium supplements, particularly for women after menopause. Amongst a total of 10 million Americans that have osteoporosis, around 80% or 8 million are women (9). As a result, older women are more inclined to take calcium supplements.
In addition to this group, there are several other scenarios where calcium supplements may be beneficial. These include:
- Vegan diet: Vegans may lack calcium since it’s commonly found in dairy. Calcium supplements vegan can help fill this gap.
- High protein/sodium diet: Excessive protein/sodium intake can lead to calcium loss. Calcium supplements can counterbalance this.
- Conditions hindering calcium absorption: Medical conditions like Crohn’s or inflammatory bowel disease affect calcium absorption. Calcium supplements ensure sufficient intake.
- Gastric bypass surgery: Surgery can reduce calcium absorption. Calcium supplements help address this issue.
- Long-term corticosteroid use: Corticosteroids harm bone health and calcium balance. Calcium supplements are prescribed to mitigate these complications.
- Osteoporosis diagnosis: Calcium supplements are often part of osteoporosis treatment to support bone health and prevent further bone loss.
The Risks And Side Effects
Recent research suggests that calcium supplements may pose certain health risks, although the evidence is inconclusive.
- Heart Disease Risk
One potential danger is an increased risk of heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes. Numerous research studies have indicated that consuming calcium supplements may increase the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, with a particular focus on postmenopausal women who are generally in good health. A recent analysis of 13 clinical trials conducted in 2021 discovered that calcium supplements raised the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 15% among healthy postmenopausal women (10). However, more research is needed to understand this relationship fully and whether taking calcium with vitamin D can offset the risks.
- Prostate Cancer
Another concern is the potential link between high calcium levels and prostate cancer. While some studies have suggested an association between high calcium intake and an increased risk of prostate cancer, other research has contradicted these findings (11). One study even showed that men who took calcium supplements had fewer cases of prostate cancer. It’s worth noting that some evidence points to dairy products rather than calcium supplements as the potential culprit in prostate cancer risk.
- Kidney Stones
One of the calcium supplement’s side effects might include the risk of kidney stones. Research involving postmenopausal women found that those who took a calcium and vitamin D supplement had an increased risk of developing kidney stones. The risk of kidney stones is more closely tied to supplements rather than calcium obtained from dietary sources. The Institute of Medicine suggests that consuming more than 2,000 mg of calcium daily from diet and supplements may increase the risk of kidney stones.
Types Of Calcium Supplements
Various types of calcium supplements are available in the market, each in different formats, such as tablets, capsules, chews, liquids, and powders.
These supplements primarily differ based on the type of calcium they contain. The two main forms are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. These forms vary regarding the amount of elemental calcium they have and their absorption rate within the body. Elemental calcium refers to the actual quantity of calcium present in the compound.
Calcium carbonate is the most widely accessible and cost-effective form. It contains 40% elemental calcium, which means it provides significant calcium in a small serving. However, it has potential side effects like gas, bloating, and constipation. To enhance absorption, it is recommended to consume calcium carbonate with food.
On the other hand, calcium citrate is a more expensive option. It comprises 21% elemental calcium, requiring more tablets to achieve the desired calcium intake. Nevertheless, it is more easily absorbed by the body than calcium carbonate and can be taken with or without food.
Calcium citrate is particularly recommended for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome. It is also preferable for those with low levels of stomach acid, a condition commonly found in older adults and individuals using medications for acid reflux.
Calcium And Diet: What’s The Connection
Getting nutrients from whole foods is generally recommended over relying solely on calcium and magnesium supplements. However, if you believe your calcium intake is insufficient, it may be beneficial to incorporate the following foods into your diet:
- Dairy products: Milk, cheese, and yogurt are excellent sources of calcium.
- Canned fish with bones: Go for calcium-rich varieties like salmon or sardines, as the bones contain calcium.
- Leafy greens: Include collard greens, spinach, and kale in your meals, as they are packed with calcium.
- Edamame and tofu: These plant-based options are rich in calcium and offer other essential nutrients.
- Beans and lentils: Incorporate legumes into your diet, as they are a good source of calcium and other valuable nutrients.
- Fortified foods and drinks: Look for products fortified with calcium to supplement your intake.
Calcium Supplements: Are They Right For You?
Determining whether calcium supplements suit a person requires a comprehensive assessment of various factors influencing their overall health and well-being. These factors include dietary intake, age, gender, medical conditions, lifestyle, medications, and personal preferences. Consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial to receive personalized advice tailored to an individual’s needs.
How Much Calcium Is Too Much?
While it is generally recommended to obtain nutrients from food, calcium supplements can help bridge the gap between the amount of calcium you consume in your diet and the recommended daily intake.
For most adults, the recommended amount of calcium is 1,000 mg per day. However, this increases to 1,200 mg per day for women over the age of 50 and men over the age of 70. Anything more than that can harm your health.
Suppose your dietary intake typically provides around 500 mg of calcium daily but requires 1,000 mg daily. In that case, consider taking a 500-mg calcium supplement daily to meet your needs.
Calcium supplements benefit individuals prone to osteoporosis or who have insufficient calcium intake in their diets.
Although specific studies hint at a potential connection between calcium supplements and heart disease, the evidence remains inconclusive.
However, exceeding the recommended calcium intake, regardless of the source, can increase the likelihood of developing kidney stones.
In moderation, calcium supplements are generally considered safe. Nonetheless, the optimal approach to obtaining calcium is through dietary sources. Including a diverse range of calcium-rich foods in your meals, including non-dairy options is advisable.
Is it safe to take calcium supplements every day?
When should I take calcium supplements?
Calcium carbonate supplements are typically taken with meals. On the other hand, calcium citrate can be taken with or without food. However, it’s best to follow the instructions provided with your specific supplement or consult a healthcare professional for personalized guidance.
Which calcium supplements are best?
The best calcium supplements may vary depending on individual needs and preferences. Common options include calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, and calcium lactate. It is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable form and dosage for your specific circumstances.
Why is calcium no longer recommended?
Due to emerging research suggesting potential risks associated with excessive intake, calcium is no longer universally recommended as a standalone supplement. Excessive calcium intake has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks. However, it’s important to note that calcium is still an essential nutrient, and its intake should be balanced and obtained through a well-rounded diet.
Does taking calcium help osteoporosis?
Calcium supplementation can benefit individuals with osteoporosis, as it helps maintain bone density and strength. However, the effectiveness of calcium supplements in treating osteoporosis is best achieved when combined with other interventions, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and medication if prescribed.
What foods to avoid when taking calcium supplements?
To ensure optimal calcium absorption, avoid consuming caffeinated drinks such as coffee and soda while taking your supplement, as caffeine can potentially hinder calcium absorption. Also, you must limit your intake of high-salt foods when taking your supplement, as excessive sodium consumption can disrupt calcium absorption.
What is the best form of calcium as a supplement?
The best form of calcium supplement depends on individual needs and tolerances. Calcium carbonate is the most commonly available and affordable form, but it requires adequate stomach acid for absorption. Calcium citrate is better absorbed, making it suitable for individuals with low stomach acid or those taking acid-reducing medications. However, your best form should be determined based on your specific health conditions and guidance from a healthcare professional.