What Are Calcium Supplements - Ask The Pharmacist

Jun 26, 2014
Specialist pharmacists help counsel patients and answer their questions about appropriate supplements and factors to consider when taking them.
  • Osteoporosis

Bone loss accelerates with age and can cause or worsen various conditions, including osteoporosis. With a healthy diet and appropriate medications, supplements such as calcium and vitamin D can make a significant difference in maintaining bone health and managing disease symptoms.

But finding the right supplement can be difficult given the proliferation of options.

Along with medication management, specialist pharmacists like myself help counsel patients and answer their questions about appropriate supplements and factors to consider when taking them.

First the basics:

  • For most adults, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 1,000mg to 1,200mg of calcium per day. The recommendations vary based on age and current medical conditions such as the amount of calcium in diet.
  • When picking a supplement, patients should check the label for the amount of elemental calcium – the amount of pure calcium available in the product.

Forms of Calcium Supplements

Calcium supplements are available in five forms: carbonate, citrate, phosphate, gluconate and lactate.

  • Calcium carbonate is the most popular and inexpensive form on the market. It has the highest percentage of elemental calcium but is poorly absorbed. It should be taken with a meal because absorption requires high stomach acidity.
  • Calcium citrate has lower amounts of elemental calcium but, if taken as labeled, provides the recommended daily amount. It is a good option for patients on an acid-reducing regimen since absorption of calcium citrate is not dependent on stomach acid.
  • Calcium phosphate, calcium gluconate and calcium lactate are not great options as supplements because they are either poorly absorbed or produce little elemental calcium.

Some calcium supplements have added ingredients such as magnesium and boron.

When taking a supplement, there are certain things to be aware of:

  • Calcium binds with several other medications, thus reducing the absorption of those medications. Do not take calcium supplements within two hours of taking other medications, if possible.
  • Ingesting higher-than-recommended doses may increase the risk of calcification or hardening of the arteries and heart arrhythmias, leading to further heart problems.
  • Another potential side effect of calcium overuse is formation of kidney stones.

Most patients, however, would benefit from adding a calcium supplement to their diet in recommended amounts when they are not receiving enough from their diet. Patients should talk with a doctor or pharmacist to decide if a calcium supplement is right for them.

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