In a perfect world, we'd get all the calcium we need from the foods we eat. Not just the usual suspects like yogurt, milk, and cheese, but also canned salmon and sardines, broccoli, kale and collard greens, and fortified cereals and juices. But we live in an imperfect world.
Research suggests that more than a third of us aren't getting enough of the mineral that's essential for building and maintaining strong bones. It helps muscles work and nerves carry messages between the brain and other parts of the body, too.
When Betty Bullock was diagnosed with osteoporosis in 1997, at the age of 66, it was a shock. She’d always been healthy and active, an avid athlete who plays tennis, swims, walks her dogs, and dances.
“I was thinking, ‘What did I do wrong?’” says the 76-year-old great-grandmother, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. “I had assumed I didn’t have to worry about osteoporosis since I was so healthy and my mother had never had it.”
It depends on how much you're already getting in your diet. Adults need 1,000 milligrams of calcium (from all sources) every day, and that amount goes up with age. Women over 50 and men over 70 need 1,200 milligrams per day. If you think you need a supplement to boost your number, check with your doctor.
The more calcium you take at one time, the harder it is for your body to process it. Aim for 500 milligrams or less. You may want to take a smaller amount at each meal throughout the day to add up to your total.
More than the recommended daily amount isn't good for you. It may even be harmful, according to a 2011 study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Your body gets rid of extra calcium through your kidneys, and it goes into your urine, raising the risk of kidney stones for some people. High levels of the mineral in your blood can lead to kidney problems, as well as hardened blood vessels and tissue. Some studies also link high calcium intake, particularly from supplements, with a greater risk of heart disease, though the results aren't settled.
Calcium Carbonate or Calcium Citrate?
Calcium carbonate is the more common of the two main types of calcium supplements. You should also eat something when you take it to help your body use it best. It doesn't matter if you take calcium citrate with or without food.
A supplement may have more calcium carbonate as an ingredient than one with calcium citrate, but they could be equally effective. When you compare products, check the labels to find out how much actual calcium you'll be getting in a dose.