Calcium is a chemical element known as a mineral. The most abundant mineral in the human body, calcium is essential for most life on earth, humans included. Almost everything — our bones, teeth, heart, nerves and blood-clotting systems — rely on an ample amount of calcium. Luckily, you can get a lot of your recommended daily amount of calcium through both diet and supplementation.
Forms of Calcium
There are many kinds of calcium, most of them available in supplement form:
- Calcium Carbonate: Also known as an OTC (over-the-counter) antacid, calcium carbonate gives you the most calcium per dose. This type is inexpensive and should give you all of the benefits associated with calcium (which is covered below).
- Calcium Citrate: A more potent version of calcium carbonate that can be absorbed easier on an empty stomach or for people with low stomach acid. Calcium citrate is helpful for people 50 years and older who suffer from stomach complications. It's more absorbable, but typically also more expensive.
- Calcium Gluconate: Usually administered through injection, calcium gluconate is injected into the vein to treat low blood calcium, high blood potassium and magnesium toxicity. Gluconate has less overall calcium concentration than both carbonate and citrate.
- Calcium Lactate: This form includes lactate anions combined with one calcium cation. Technically a salt, it does exactly what calcium gluconate does: treat low blood calcium. Again, calcium lactate has less calcium concentration than the either calcium citrate or carbonate.
- Calcium Phosphate: This version contains phosphate anions. Also a salt, calcium phosphate is the main mineral found in human bones and teeth, as well as considered a "highly biocompatible inorganic biomaterial1." Calcium phosphate also has a lower amount of calcium per dose than either calcium carbonate or citrate.
Supplementing with calcium has proven to have its fair share of advantages:
- Decreases bone loss/osteoporosis
- Increases bone density
- Potential bone fracture reduction
- Reduces risk of colorectal cancer2
- Lowers risk of blood pressure3
- Promotes weight loss4 (potentially)
- Improves accurate neurotransmitter responses and muscle contractions
Calcium allows your body to feel optimized in many ways; therefore, it's important to get plenty of calcium into your body through both diet and supplementation.
Daily Recommended Allowance
Everybody has different needs when it comes to calcium, based on genetics, upbringing, diet and absorption. However, the common daily recommended allowance of calcium, according to the Food and Nutrition Board, is between 1,000mg and 1,300mg for both males and females. During formative years (age 9-18) and older years (age 71+), you should be at the higher end of this range. If you're a female who's pregnant or lactating, you actually don't need to ramp up consumption.
However, again this is the general recommended allowance. The only way to know for sure how much calcium your body needs is to get your blood tested by a medical professional. That way you know what you need in terms of accurate supplementation.
How to Use
As a supplement, calcium is best absorbed in a specific environment. For one, taking calcium orally after you've eaten maximizes your stomach acid, which helps with absorption. For two, taking smaller doses assists with this as well. This means 600mg or less when dosing. Ideally, taking calcium during your first meal (whenever that is) in smaller doses allows for the best possible experience with calcium supplementation.
Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency
Calcium deficiency (hypocalcemia) occurs when your body isn't receiving enough calcium. Specifically, the blood has too little calcium and is affected adversely as a result. Common symptoms5 of calcium deficiency include:
- Muscle Spasms
- Confusion or Memory Loss
- Numbing or tingling in the hands, feet or face
- Brittle Nails
- Muscle Cramps
- Easy fracturing of the bones
Early stages of calcium deficiency rarely have any symptoms; usually, these start to occur once the deficiency has been prevalent for some time. You can also get slower hair growth and fragile, thin skin. This is a serious disease that shouldn't be taken lightly.
Who Is At Risk of a Deficiency?
There are some instances where people can be at risk for calcium deficiency. Fortunately, these are mostly treatable or avoidable.
One way is poor calcium intake over a long period of time. This is especially common in children. The best way to remedy this is by increasing calcium consumption, either by diet or supplementation.
Another way is by medications that decrease calcium absorption. This is tough, but if you need that medication, you can up your calcium above the RDA and hope more of it gets absorbed.
Other people at risk for calcium deficiency include dietary intolerance to calcium-rich foods, hormonal changes (especially in women), and certain genetic factors. Talk with your medical professional about ways to help with this.
Foods That Contain Calcium
There are many foods out there that can give you solid amounts of calcium:
- Plain Yogurt
- Skim Mozzarella
- Milk (2 percent)
- Orange juice
- Wild Caught Salmon
- Cottage Cheese
- Sweet Potatoes
- Butternut Squash
As you can see, there are a lot of options when it comes to finding ways to add more calcium to your everyday diet. However, if you don't care for these foods, have an intolerance, or already get lots of these into your daily diet, then supplementation with either calcium carbonate or calcium citrate (or one of the calcium salts) is an option.
Most of the foods on this list are either dairy products or canned seafood. This is because calcium naturally occurs within cow's milk and fish. The other things on this list like orange juice are fortified or made with calcium salts. Therefore, your best choices for calcium-rich foods will be dairy products, some dairy alternatives, and canned fish.