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Calcium is the most abundant, essential mineral in the human body. Of
the two to three pounds of calcium contained in the average body, 99%
is located in the bones and teeth. Calcium is needed to form bones and
teeth and is also required for blood clotting, transmission of signals
in nerve cells, and muscle contraction. The importance of calcium for
preventing osteoporosis is probably its most well-known role.
1,500 mg daily
||Supplementing with calcium may reduce the risk of gestational
|Lactose Intolerance and Calcium Deficiency
||500 to 1,200 mg daily depending on age and other
||As lactose-containing foods are among the best dietary sources of
calcium, lactose-intolerant people may want to use calcium supplements
as an alternative source.
||800 to 1,500 mg daily
depending on age and dietary calcium intake
||Calcium supplements help prevent osteoporosis, especially for girls
and premenopausal women. It is often recommended to help people already
diagnosed with osteoporosis.
|Preeclampsia and High-Risk Women
to 1,500 mg daily
||An analysis of double-blind trials found calcium supplementation to
be highly effective in preventing preeclampsia.
||1,000 to 1,200
||Calcium appears to reduce the risk of mood swings, bloating,
headaches, and other PMS symptoms.
How to Use It
The National Academy of Sciences has established guidelines for
calcium that are 25–50% higher than previous recommendations. For ages
19 to 50, calcium intake is recommended to be 1,000 mg daily; for adults
over age 51, the recommendation is 1,200 mg daily. The most common
supplemental amount for adults is 800–1,000 mg per day. General
recommendations for higher daily intakes (1,200–1,500 mg) usually
include the calcium most people consume from their diets. Studies
indicate the average daily amount of calcium consumed by Americans is
about 500–1,000 mg.
Where to Find
Most dietary calcium comes from dairy products. The myth that calcium
from dairy products is not absorbed is not supported by scientific
research. Other good sources include sardines, canned salmon, green
leafy vegetables, and tofu.
Severe deficiency of either calcium or vitamin D leads to a condition
called rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Since vitamin D
is required for calcium absorption, people with conditions causing
vitamin D deficiency (e.g., pancreatic insufficiency) may develop a
deficiency of calcium as well. Vegans (pure vegetarians), people with
dark skin, those who live in northern latitudes, and people who stay
indoors almost all the time are more likely to be vitamin D deficient
than are other people. Vegans often eat less calcium and vitamin D than
do other people. Most people eat well below the recommended amount of
calcium. This lack of dietary calcium is thought to contribute to the
risk of osteoporosis, particularly in white and Asian women.
Constipation, bloating, and gas are sometimes reported with the use of
calcium supplements. A very high intake of calcium from dairy products
combined with large amounts of supplemental calcium carbonate (used as
an antacid) was reported in the past to cause a condition called “milk
alkali syndrome.” This toxicity is rarely reported today because most
medical doctors no longer tell people with ulcers to use this approach
as treatment for their condition.
People with hyperparathyroidism, chronic kidney disease, or kidney
stones should not supplement with calcium without consulting a
physician. For other adults, the highest amount typically suggested by
doctors (1,200 mg per day) is considered quite safe. People with
prostate cancer should avoid supplementing with calcium without medical
In the past, calcium supplements in the forms of bone meal (including
microcrystalline hydroxyapatite), dolomite, and oyster shell have
sometimes had higher lead levels than permitted by stringent California
regulations, though generally less than the levels set by the federal
government. “Refined” forms (which would include calcium citrate malate,
calcium citrate, and most calcium carbonate) have low levels of lead.
More recently, a survey of over-the-counter calcium supplements found
low or undetectable levels of lead in most products, representing a
sharp decline in lead content of calcium supplements since 1993. People
who decide to take bone meal, dolomite, oyster shell, or coral calcium
for long periods of time can contact the supplying supplement company to
request independent laboratory analysis showing minimal lead levels.
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