The question of whether or not we should take supplements to enhance our dietary calcium intake is always a controversial subject.
Many studies have reported adverse effects associated with calcium supplementation, including increased risks of forming kidney stones and developing cardiovascular disease. In contrast, studies exploring the effect of additional calcium provided through dietary changes have reported positive benefits including some protection against heart disease.
Dietary versus supplementary
The reason for different outcomes between dietary vs supplementary calcium is most likely due to the dosage. Specifically, taking one large dose of calcium within a supplement causes a spike in the calcium levels in the blood. As the body is unable to utilize this surge of calcium all in one go, the calcium is either deposited in arteries or is excreted via our kidneys. In comparison, when we consume calcium via food, it is absorbed at a much slower rate. This slower rate of absorption permits the calcium to reach bones and other cells where it is required to do its job.
When to take supplements
Of note, a calcium supplement may be required if it is difficult to consume enough calcium in your diet on a regular basis, for example, if you are lactose intolerant or a vegan. An ideal supplement would include a dose of no more than 500mg of calcium in an easily digestible citrate form, especially if you have low stomach acid or are taking Proton Pump Inhibitor medicines. Ideally, the calcium supplement should also include magnesium, Vitamin D and Vitamin K to aid absorption. Please note, if you are taking Bisphosphonates for Osteoporosis, the calcium supplement should be taken at least 2 hours apart.
Calcium is essential for healthy bones but it must be consumed safely. If you are unsure of what intake level is right for you please speak with your GP or relevant Health Professional.