Nutritionists agree the preferred source of calcium is through calcium-rich foods such as dairy products. Calcium-fortified foods and calcium supplements are other means by which optimal calcium intake can be reached in those who cannot meet this need by eating conventional foods. But this is where the problems can occur. While it takes a great deal of calcium to cause hypercalcemia -- between four and 60 grams per day -- eating enough calcium and additional supplementation can easily push an adult over the recommended amount. Also, sometimes prescription medicines contain calcium. Adding antacids on top of all that can easily push someone beyond their needs.
Jan Stein Carter, MS, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Cincinnati's Clermont College, mentions the advertising of over-the-counter antacids as a source of dietary calcium. "This raises a number of important questions to consider," says Carter. "Is an antacid really the best way to get calcium? Overconsumption of calcium-alkali antacids can lead to hypercalcemia, which can adversely affect a number of organ systems, including the kidneys, bones, muscles, and pancreas."
Still, "patients with life-threatening hypercalcemia are rare," Vanpee writes. The key is to flush the system of the excess calcium. "Patients with this syndrome need at least six liters of fluid per day."
As for the man in Belgium, Vanpee says he was discharged after two weeks in relatively good shape.