The low-down on Calcium Supplements

We had a great question the other day from a reader – about calcium supplements. Calcium supplementation needs to be done carefully, because other foods and nutrients can stop calcium from being absorbed as efficiently, and likewise, calcium can block the absorption of certain minerals. Read on to find out what to avoid, and what to do.

Calcium supplementation is generally done through tablets, or liquid form. There’s a range of options available on the market today, and sometimes Calcium is paired with other vitamins or minerals, like a Calcium/Magnesium pair. The McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests an intake of 1,000 to 1,300 mg daily of calcium for adults.

The question of whether or not it’s a good idea to take calcium with a meal is a good one to ask. So is the question of whether or not certain foods or supplements should be spaced away from taking calcium.

What can block calcium absorption?

  1. Vitamin D deficiency – this is very important, because if you live in North America and don’t take supplemental Vitamin D, the chances are you are Vitamin D deficient. To absorb calcium, you need around 600IU’s a day, although higher dosages are recommended for other reasons.
  2. Some Medicines – anything designed to reduce your stomach acid production will decrease the absorption of calcium. If you take anything for stomach acid, take Calcium Citrate as your supplemental calcium – it can be absorbed without stomach acids.
  3. Certain Foods – Foods such as spinach, sweet potato, beans, nuts, rhubarb, celery and beets, fiber-containing whole-grain products and wheat bran, seeds, and soy isolates all contain compounds such as oxalic or phytic acids, which can decrease the amount of calcium that’s absorbed when eaten with calcium rich foods. The bolded items are especially relevant to slow carbers.
  4. Taking too much calcium – Authorities suggest that once you go over 500 – 600mg of calcium in one dose, the effectiveness is reduced because absorption is not as efficient. Therefore, it is recommended that calcium supplementation is taken over the course of a day – perhaps morning, lunch and evening.

What affects can calcium have on other nutrients?

The most important effect calcium can have is on iron absorption. Studies have shown that a large glass of milk can reduce the absorption of an iron-rich meal by as much as 50-60%! That’s especially important if you are in an at-risk group for iron deficiency. Definitely think about taking calcium away from iron-rich meals, and if you are taking an iron supplement, take it well away from any calcium supplement, or dietary calcium.

The final word

If you have decided to supplement calcium in you diet, with tablets or liquid form, then it is important to consider when and how much you take.

Those on a slow carb diet should consider taking calcium at a time away from meals, due to the effects of beans and spinach. Look at how you can take your calcium supplement 3 times a day, at most 600mg per dose, and definitely at a different time to any iron supplements or iron-rich meals.

NOTE: On suggestion of a friend, I think it’s worthwhile including a note here that if you’re at risk of heart disease, and are currently supplementing with calcium, it’s worth having a discussion with your doctor, as there is recent research evidence that calcium supplements may increase heart disease risk.

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3 Responses to The low-down on Calcium Supplements

  • Veronica says:

    Thanks for this great info. It helped me setup my daily regimen for adding my supplements into the slow carb diet, as i would have never known that foods like spinach and beans would decrease the amount of calcium absorbed if taken together. However, after researching calcium I found it very important to note that there are two main forms of calcium supplements, carbonate and citrate. Carbonate is absorbed most efficiently when taken with food, whereas citrate is absorbed equally well when taken with or without food.

    After rereading the article, I did see that citrate was mentioned when taking medications however I must have not paid to much attention to that part because I dont take any meds. I of course bought the carbonate kind and have been taking it between meals. Do you think that its not being absorbed as I’m not sure if I should ditch the bottle of carbonate and go get the citrate version?

    • Luke says:

      Hey Veronica, according to your comment, the citrate is absorbed well without food. Currently, if you’re taking the carbonate version without food it sounds like absorption might be affected.. probably best next time to go for citrate.
      All the best,

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