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Calcium

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.

Uses

Used for Amount Why
Gestational Hypertension 1,200 to 1,500 mg daily Supplementing with calcium may reduce the risk of gestational hypertension.
Lactose Intolerance and Calcium Deficiency 500 to 1,200 mg daily depending on age and other calcium sources 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.
Osteoporosis 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 1,200 to 1,500 mg daily An analysis of double-blind trials found calcium supplementation to be highly effective in preventing preeclampsia.
Premenstrual Syndrome 1,000 to 1,200 mg daily 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.

Possible Deficiencies
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.

Side Effects
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 supervision.

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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