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Linda Mundorff

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January 2010

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What is in your Calcium Supplement?

August 2009
By Dr. Linda Mundorff, MPH,MSN,ND,RN,CNC,CTN

Many individuals give very little thought to the calcium supplements available on the market today. Calcium is calcium, right? Well actually, the number of choices available will surprise you. First, however it is important to know that calcium is always prescribed in compound form, which means it is bound to another element, such as:

  • Carbonate
  • Citrate
  • Gluconate
  • Phosphate
  • Lactate

Elemental Calcium

Calcium carbonate contains 40% of elemental calcium, the important part of the compound. Because of this fact, it is most widely prescribed for those individuals requiring a higher daily dietary intake.

There is very little regulation when it comes to the manufacturing of supplements. That being said, some calcium supplements contain more calcium per pill than other products. You might think you are getting a good deal, but come to discover that there is very little elemental calcium and more inert ingredients than you expected. For example, calcium carbonate contains the highest percentage of elemental calcium at 40%. Calcium citrate comes in second with 20%. Calcium lactate is 13%, Calcium gluconate is 9%.

Absorbable Calcium

Another important factor to take into consideration is the fact that not all calcium is absorbed in the same manner. For example, calcium carbonate should be taken with a meal, while calcium citrate should be taken on an empty stomach.

Absorbability is not the only issue to take into consideration when choosing which type of calcium supplement to purchase. Some preparations are better suited to treat specific conditions such as calcium gluconate, which works well in treating low calcium levels related to bone loss (osteoporosis).

Conversely, some calcium supplements contain other active ingredients that you may not need, such as calcium phosphate, which not only contains calcium but phosphorus as well. Too much phosphorus can pose a problem for individuals with chronic renal disease as the kidneys have trouble clearing phosphorus.

Tums Debate

The primary purpose of Tums is to help reduce stomach acid, as a side benefit, it contains a little bit of calcium. Stomach acid is necessary during the digestive process, however in some individuals the acid pump works in overdrive, secreting more acid than is necessary. Tums helps to reduce the excess acid.

There is a big debate over the use of Tums as a calcium source. Tums is composed of approximately 200mg of elemental calcium. Some sources recommend the use of Tums as an alternative to more costly calcium supplementation while others are concerned that Tums can interfere with proper stomach acid production. However, for those who have a low dietary need for calcium, than taking Tums should present no danger. Conversely, if your calcium intake is high and you find yourself chewing a couple of tabs several times a day, then discontinuing its use would be recommended.

In conclusion, calcium can take many forms; its absorbability varies, as well as its benefits. Because calcium can also interfere with medications, worsen certain chronic conditions, and lose some of its absorbability when taken with certain foods, it is best to discuss its supplementation with your health care provider before taking.

A well-informed traveler is a prepared traveler.

Happy Travels!

Disclaimer: Dr. Mundorff is a Registered Nurse and Board Certified Traditional Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases, nor be misinterpreted as a prescription. This information is provided with the understanding that the author is not engaging in a health-care practitioner/patient relationship with her readers. In the author’s best judgment, the information and opinions expressed here are accurate and sound at the time of publication. Readers who rely on the information in this book as a replacement of the advice of a medical doctor assume all risks of such conduct. The author is not responsible for errors or omissions. Please consult your doctor before starting any alternative modalities.