Boning Up on Calcium
Sure, calcium builds strong osteoporosis-resistant bones. But most people don’t know that getting enough of this mineral also helps keep blood pressure in check, improves cholesterol numbers, makes preeclampsia in pregnancy less likely, reduces the risk of colon cancer, and helps with weight maintenance. So you can see, it’s essential you get enough calcium—but what’s the best way? While there are many rich sources of calcium, the most important thing when evaluating your options is to understand how much of it is actually absorbed and used by the body.
The National Academy of Sciences recommends 1,000 mg daily for people ages 19 to 50 and 1,200 mg daily over age 51.
Food first: Eat your calcium-packed favorites
Dairy: Dairy products are the go-to food for calcium, in fact they supply 72% of the calcium for the average person. Being a milk drinker instantly ups calcium intake; surveys find that milk drinkers get 80% more calcium in their diet compared to non-milk-drinkers.
Nondairy: Calcium-fortified soy milk and orange juice are nondairy options, although the calcium in these drinks is not absorbed quite as well as the calcium in dairy products. Even so, they can be significant sources of calcium in the diet.
Cover your bases with stand-out supplements
If you’re considering a calcium supplement to bump up your calcium intake, you have your pick of many different forms are available in dietary supplements. Some research has found that certain forms of calcium absorb better than others, but other studies have found they are about the same. So, taking a calcium supplement regularly may be more important than which one you choose:
Calcium citrate malate (CCM): This form is well absorbed by the body and may be more effective in keeping bones strong than some other forms.
Calcium citrate: Not to be confused with CCM, this is the calcium salt of citric acid.
Calcium carbonate: This form absorbs as well as the calcium in milk, it’s inexpensive, and also requires the fewest number of tablets to reach an appropriate level, which makes it a popular choice for many people. Calcium carbonate is the main ingredient of coral calcium supplements and also antacids, such as Tums®, which is why some people rely on those as a calcium supplement.
Calcium amino acid chelates: These have not been well studied, though they appears to be well-absorbed by the body.
Microcrystalline hydroxyapatite: This bonemeal variation has been shown to build bone mass in people with certain conditions.
Whichever form of calcium you choose, they all add to your body’s calcium stores, especially if you take it with a meal. Dinner might be the best choice since supplementing in the evening appears better for osteoporosis prevention than taking calcium in the morning, because of the circadian rhythm of bone loss. However, people supplementing with more than 600 mg per day should divide it up between meals.
Don’t forget the D
Not everyone knows that the body also needs vitamin D in order to properly absorb calcium. And since vitamin D–deficiency is surprisingly common, you might discuss with your doctor whether you should get your levels checked.
May 27, 2010
Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, a health journalist since 1993, has written or co-authored nine books, including her latest: The Green Tea Book, second edition (Penguin). Victoria, her husband Jeff, and their children live in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest where they all enjoy cycling, hiking, and cross-country skiing.
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