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What does calcium do?
Calcium is the most abundant, essential mineral in the human body. Of the two to three pounds of calcium contained in the average body, 99% is located in the bones and teeth. Calcium is needed to form bones and teeth and is also required for blood clotting, transmission of signals in nerve cells, and muscle contraction. The importance of calcium for preventing osteoporosis is probably its most well-known role.

Although calcium plays at least some minor role in lowering blood pressure, the mechanisms involved appear complex and somewhat unclear.1 The level of calcium in the blood is tightly regulated by parathyroid hormone (PTH), and low intake of calcium causes elevations in PTH, which in turn have been implicated in the development of hypertension.2 High calcium intake has also been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women.3

By reducing absorption of oxalate,4 a substance found in many foods, calcium may be able to indirectly reduce the risk of kidney stones.5 However, people with a history of kidney stones must talk with a doctor before supplementing with calcium because such supplementation might actually increase the risk of forming stones for the small number of people who absorb too much calcium.

Calcium also appears to partially bind some fats and cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract. Perhaps as a result, some research suggests that calcium supplementation may help lower cholesterol levels.6

Animal studies have established a role of calcium in the development of female egg cells (oocytes).7 8 Although the precise role of calcium is unclear, some researchers speculate that future studies may identify important uses for calcium in conditions of the human ovary, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).9

Through a variety of mechanisms, calcium may have anticancer actions within the colon. Most preliminary studies have shown high calcium diets are associated with reduced colon cancer risk.10 Most,11 12 13 but not all,14 preliminary studies have found taking calcium supplements to also be associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer or precancerous conditions in the colon. One preliminary study reported that high dietary, but not supplemental, calcium intake was associated with a decreased risk of precancerous changes in the colon.15 In double-blind studies, calcium supplementation has significantly protected against precancerous changes in the colon in some,16 17 but not all, studies.18 19

Warning: Calcium supplements should be avoided by prostate cancer patients.

Where is calcium found?
Most dietary calcium comes from dairy products. The myth that calcium from dairy products is not absorbed is not supported by scientific research.20 21 Other good sources include sardines, canned salmon, green leafy vegetables, and tofu.

Calcium has been used in connection with the following conditions
(refer to the individual health concern for complete information)


Rating Health Concerns
Gestational hypertension
Lactose intolerance (for preventing deficiency if dairy products are avoided only)
Preeclampsia (for deficiency)
Premenstrual syndrome
Anemia (for thalassemia)
Celiac disease (for deficiency only)
Heart attack (IV magnesium immediately following a myocardial infarction)
High blood pressure (for people taking potassium-depleting diuretics)
Premenstrual syndrome
Urinary urgency (women)
Amenorrhea (calcium for preventing bone loss)
Colon cancer (reduces risk)
Dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation)
Gingivitis (periodontal disease)
Insulin resistance syndrome (Syndrome X)
Kidney stones
Migraine headaches
Multiple sclerosis
Pregnancy and postpartum support
Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Who is likely to be deficient of calcium?
Severe deficiency of either calcium or vitamin D leads to a condition called rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Since vitamin D is required for calcium absorption, people with conditions causing vitamin D deficiency (e.g., pancreatic insufficiency) may develop a deficiency of calcium as well. Vegans (pure vegetarians), people with dark skin, those who live in northern climates, and people who stay indoors almost all the time are more likely to be vitamin D deficient than are other people. Vegans often eat less calcium and vitamin D than do other people. Most people eat well below the recommended amount of calcium. This lack of dietary calcium is thought to contribute to the risk of osteoporosis, particularly in white and Asian women.

How much calcium is usually taken?
The National Academy of Sciences has established guidelines for calcium that are 25–50% higher than previous recommendations. For ages 19 to 50, calcium intake is recommended to be 1,000 mg daily; for adults over age 51, the recommendation is 1,200 mg daily.22 The most common supplemental amount for adults is 800–1,000 mg per day.23 General recommendations for higher daily intakes (1,200–1,500 mg) usually include the calcium most people consume from their diets. Studies indicate the average daily amount of calcium consumed by Americans is about 500–1,000 mg.

Are there any side effects or interactions with calcium?
Constipation, bloating, and gas are sometimes reported with the use of calcium supplements.24 A very high intake of calcium from dairy products plus supplemental calcium carbonate was reported in the past to cause a condition called “milk alkali syndrome.” This toxicity is rarely reported today because most medical doctors no longer tell people with ulcers to use this approach as treatment for their condition.

People with hyperparathyroidism, chronic kidney disease, or kidney stones should not supplement with calcium without consulting a physician. For other adults, the highest amount typically suggested by doctors (1,200 mg per day) is considered quite safe. People with prostate cancer should avoid supplementing with calcium.

In the past, calcium supplements in the forms of bone meal (including MCHC), dolomite, and oyster shell have sometimes had higher lead levels than permitted by stringent California regulations, though generally less than the levels set by the federal government.25 “Refined” forms (which would include CCM, calcium citrate, and most calcium carbonate) have low levels.26 More recently, a survey of over-the-counter calcium supplements found low or undetectable levels of lead in most products,27 representing a sharp decline in lead content of calcium supplements since 1993. People who decide to take bone meal, dolomite, oyster shell, or coral calcium for long periods of time can contact the supplying supplement company to request independent laboratory analysis showing minimal lead levels.

Calcium competes for absorption with a number of other minerals. Therefore, people taking calcium for more than a few weeks should also take a multimineral supplement.

One study has shown that taking calcium can interfere with the absorption of phosphorus, which, like calcium, is important for bone health.28 . Although most western diets contain ample or even excessive amounts of phosphorus, older people who supplement with large amounts of calcium may be at risk of developing phosphorus deficiency. For this reason, the authors of this study recommend that, for elderly people, at least some of the supplemental calcium be taken in the form of tricalcium phosphate or some other phosphorus-containing preparation.

Vitamin D’s most important role is maintaining blood levels of calcium. Therefore, many doctors recommend that those supplementing with calcium also supplement with 400 IU of vitamin D per day.

Animal studies have shown that essential fatty acids (EFAs) increase calcium absorption from the gut, in part by enhancing the effects of vitamin D and reducing loss of calcium in the urine.29

Lysine supplementation increases the absorption of calcium and may reduce its excretion.30 As a result, some researchers believe that lysine may eventually be shown to have a role in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.31

Are there any drug interactions?
Certain medicines may interact with calcium. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.


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