Are Calcium Supplements Necessary for All Women?

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Calcium is an important part of everyone’s diet but for women in different stages of their lives, this mineral is even more crucial.  Women who are pregnant, nursing or postmenopausal have a greater need of calcium in their diet to stay healthy.  While the majority of calcium should come from the diet, nearly 90% of Americans do not get the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of calcium.  Is it necessary for all women to take calcium supplements to get enough of this vital mineral in their diet?

How Much Calcium do Women Need?

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, women need the following daily amount of calcium:

  • Age14 to 18 – 1,300 milligrams
  • Age 19 to 50 – 1,000 milligrams
  • Pregnant or Lactating Women Age 19 to 50 – 1,000 milligrams
  • Age 50+  –  1,200 milligrams

The ideal way to get calcium is through a balanced, healthy diet.  Calcium absorbs best when taken along with food as well as with vitamin D and magnesium.  It is recommended to take 400 to 1,000 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D each day as well as 500 to 600 milligrams of magnesium along with calcium.  The magnesium should be taken in doses of one-half of the intake of calcium at each time.  For example: If taking or eating 500 milligrams of calcium, 250 milligrams of magnesium should also be taken.  Many calcium supplements include magnesium.

Whether taking supplements or eating calcium rich foods, Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Boston, MA suggests consuming no more than 500 milligrams at a time during the day for the best absorption.  Eating calcium rich foods a little at a time throughout the day is more beneficial to the body than eating large amounts all at once.


Who Needs Calcium Supplements


Women who do not get enough calcium through their diet may need to take a supplement every day.  This is especially true of women who are pregnant, nursing or postmenopausal.  Also, there are some foods and lifestyle choices that lower the amount or decrease the absorption of calcium in the body.  These include:

  • Foods high in insoluble fiber such as wheat bran and whole grains
  • Phosphoric acid in sodas
  • Caffeine
  • Excess sodium in the diet
  • Some drugs such as corticosteroids and diuretics
  • Smoking
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Too much sugar in the diet
  • Diet high in animal protein such as red meat, chicken, eggs and high-fat dairy products

Women who consume these items as a part of their diet may also need to take a calcium supplement.

In addition to building strong bones, teeth and muscles, calcium has also been found to be beneficial for the prevention of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, lowering cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.  Calcium is also beneficial for blood clotting and nerve functions and has also shown to have a positive effect on the prevention of colon cancer.  Women at risk of any of these conditions may want to consider taking a calcium supplement under the supervision of their doctor.


Dangers of Calcium Supplements


Recent studies on calcium supplements have found that they may increase the risk of heart attack by 30 percent as well as a small risk of stroke in postmenopausal women.  However, increasing calcium through the diet did not present a health risk in women.  The researchers of the study feel that calcium supplementation may not be effective enough in preventing fractures in women to make it worth the risk of a heart attack or stroke occurring.

If taken in high doses, calcium can cause health problems.  No more than 2,000 milligrams of calcium should be taken each day.  Side-effects of calcium overdose include impaired absorption of magnesium, zinc and iron, impaired kidney function, calcium deposits in tissues in the body and extreme lethargy.


Types of Calcium Supplements


Calcium comes in several forms and some are more effective than others.  Brigham and Women’s Hospital states that calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are the most preferred types of calcium supplements to use.  Calcium carbonate contains the highest amount of calcium per pill (40 percent) so you can take fewer pills per day.  However, calcium carbonate should be taken with a meal because stomach acid is necessary for its absorption.  Calcium citrate absorbs fine on an empty stomach but contains less calcium per pill (20 percent).  This is a good choice for older women who have less stomach acid.

Three other types of calcium supplements are not recommended because they contain very small amounts of calcium.  These are calcium lactate, calcium phosphate and calcium gluconate.  There are other types of calcium supplements on the market that should be avoided because they may contain lead or other metals.  These include supplements made of oyster shell, bone meal and dolomite.  Read the label on calcium supplements before purchasing so you know which type of calcium is in the product.

Taking a daily calcium supplement is not necessary for every woman.  Eating a diet rich in calcium foods such as low-fat milk and yogurt, cheese, fortified cereals, salmon and soy products is the optimum way to get your daily calcium.  Eliminating foods that decrease absorption of calcium is also a good way to increase calcium in the diet.  For those who may need extra calcium, such as pregnant, lactating or postmenopausal women, talk to a doctor before taking a daily calcium supplement to avoid any dangerous side-effects.  Calcium supplements are a good way to increase this important mineral in your body but should only be taken when necessary and under a doctor’s supervision.

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