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Osteoporosis Health Center

Confused About Calcium Supplements?

Experts share their advice about what to consider when choosing a calcium supplement.
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What calcium supplement dose is best?

The body can absorb only about 500 milligrams of a calcium supplement at any one time, says Puzas, so you can't just down a 1000-mg supplement first thing in the morning and call it a day.

Instead, split your dose into two or three servings a day. "The best way to take it is with a meal; calcium is absorbed better that way," Puzas says. If your daily diet includes calcium-containing foods and drinks, you may not need multiple doses.

Can you take too much calcium?

According to the National Institutes of Health, the upper limit of daily calcium for people between the ages of 19 and 50 is 2,500 milligrams, and for those 51 and older it’s 2,000 mg.

Calcium supplements rarely cause excessive calcium levels in the bloodstream. "It doesn't hurt you, but it's not particularly beneficial, either," Puzas says.

One exception: people who have a tendency to make kidney stones. "You might make larger and more frequent stones with unusually high doses of calcium."

"There's really no point in taking more calcium than about 1,200-1,500 milligrams a day," Bolster stresses.

Can I skip calcium supplements and get what I need from my diet?

Yes. But it's going to take some work.

How can you tell if you're getting enough calcium? Try tracking how much you get for a week.

"Write down what you eat for a week. Figure out how much calcium is in what you've eaten during that time," Puzas says. "Then divide by seven. I'll bet you'll be well under 1,000 milligrams."

When he first tried this test, Puzas himself found that he only got about 700 milligrams of calcium per day -- "and I knew better and was trying to do good things!"

Some of your best sources of dietary calcium are yogurt (over 400 milligrams per 8-ounce serving), nonfat milk (about 300 milligrams per serving), and cheeses like mozzarella and cheddar (between 275 and 315 milligrams per serving). Some dark green vegetables, like spinach, are fairly high in calcium as well.

Keep in mind that there's really not that much difference between getting calcium in a supplement and calcium in food.

"Ideally, if you have a good, healthy diet, and get all your nutrients including calcium from that, that's best," says Puzas. "But the calcium in food and the calcium in supplements is identical."

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