Should I Take Calcium?

Of all the vitamins and minerals in the media perhaps none gets as much coverage as the vaunted calcium.  Take it to prevent osteoporosis, take it to build strong bones, etc.  But do we really need to take calcium supplements?  If so, which ones should we be taking?  And how much calcium is enough?

Calcium is possibly the most important mineral in the human body as the body uses more of it than zinc, magnesium, and iron combined.  Calcium is essential not only for bone strength but for nerve and muscle function as well.  Muscle cramps and shooting nerve pains are both health conditions associated with calcium deficiency.

Under ideal circumstances your dietary intake of calcium will match your daily metabolic need for calcium.  Current research shows that a body between the ages of 4 and 100 uses approximately 1,000mg of calcium per day.  If your diet doesn’t provide you with 1,000mg of calcium per day then your body will draw what it needs from your bone supply of calcium.  Here’s a Top 10 List of Calcium Foods you can check to see if you’re getting close to your daily requirement:

TOP 10  CALCIUM FOODS
Sardines 325mg
Tofu 253mg
Pink salmon, canned, w/ bone 181mg
Collard greens 178mg
Blackstrap molasses 172mg
Spinach 146mg
Soybeans & turnip greens 125mg
Cowpeas 106mg
Kale, Okra, Blue Crab, Beet greens 80mg
Clams, Dandelion greens, Rainbow trout 73mg

If you’re not meeting your body’s daily requirement of calcium with your diet alone then taking a calcium supplement may be the right decision for you.  But with so many calcium supplements on the market to choose from, which is the best for you?  Do you need the one with Calcium and Magnesium, or the one with Calcium and Vitamin D?  And how much calcium is enough for you?

Synergy

The reason why they pair calcium and magnesium together in supplements is simple—teamwork.  The body has a hard time using calcium properly without magnesium.  This is because calcium has to enter your cells to be used.  It must pass through a calcium channel in order to enter the cell.  This channel has a gate on it, and the gate won’t open to let calcium in without magnesium.  There are other minerals like zinc and vitamin D that act as calcium “gatekeepers” on the surface of the cell.  Here are some of the signs and symptoms I use in my patients to be able to tell which calcium teammate their body needs to be absorbed properly:

Calcium Synergist Needed Symptoms
Calcium Muscle cramps, bone development, anxiety, restless leg syndrome, ADD
Magnesium Charley horses (especially at night), shooting nerve pains, irritability, white spots on finger nails
Phosphorus Nervous stomach, nervous heart pounding, excessive skin moisture, constipation, bone spurs/arthritis
Parathyroid extract Thinning/falling hair
Vitamin D SAD, depression, “always fears the worst”
Potassium Cramps during exercise
Zinc Lack of patience, ADD

Q: I have a history of kidney stones which were calcium-based and my doctors have told me I shouldn’t take calcium supplements.  What should I do?

A: Kidney stones are a condition where the body accumulates calcium in an area where it shouldn’t.  In other words, your body isn’t using calcium properly so it’s depositing in the kidneys.  The answer for a person like this isn’t to take more calcium, it’s to figure out why your body isn’t using calcium properly and correct that.  See the section above on Synergy.

Q: How do you know for sure if you need to take additional calcium?

A:  99% of the body’s calcium is found in the bones and teeth where it supports their structure and function.  Blood calcium levels are highly regulated by the body and will not fluctuate with changes in dietary intake.  If your dietary intake of calcium isn’t close to 1,000mg per day then your body will pull calcium out of your bones to keep blood calcium levels stable.

Further Reading

How to Prevent Osteoporosis – Beyond Calcium

What’s In Your Multivitamin?

References

National Institute of Health – Office of Dietary Supplements

http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/calcium/

University of Maryland Medical Center – http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/calcium-000290.htm

Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: National Academy Press