Ditching fancy prescription meds and consuming more calcium — in your diet and through supplements — should be the first move you make if you’ve been identified as being at risk for osteoporosis, says a review published in a recent issue of the journal “Nutrients.”
When it comes to calcium supplements, though, the brands, choices and variety available can be mind-boggling. Calcium citrate or carbonate? What’s a good dosage? And then you’ve got a choice of tablets, chews and liquid — is one any better than the other?
Here’s a primer to help you make the right choice for you.
Choosing Between Citrate and Carbonate
Both are good sources of calcium. Pharmacists tends to recommend citrate over refined calcium carbonate since you don’t need to have acidity in your stomach in order for it to be absorbed by the body. Carbonate is a cheaper form of calcium, but you need to take it with food in order to maximize its absorption.
Consider which form will be easier for you to take regularly based on your lifestyle: If having a meal will remind you to take your calcium supplement, then a carbonate supplement will suit you well. If, on the other hand, you’re always on the go and need the flexibility of being able to take your supplement whenever you can, citrate may suit you better.
Check the Elemental Calcium
It’s not how many milligrams a tablet is that counts, but rather the elemental calcium each dose provides. This will be marked on the label. Note that you want to be taking a maximum of 500 milligrams of elemental calcium at a time — your body can only absorb so much calcium at once.
As for how much calcium you should be taking daily, your health-care professional can make recommendations for you specifically. You can also check here for Osteoporosis Canada’s recommendations.
Vitamin D helps boost calcium absorption, so it’s a good idea to take your daily D with your calcium supplement (or switch to a supplement that provides both D and calcium).
Consider the Source of Calcium
If you’ve got a seafood or shellfish allergy, read the labels carefully — calcium carbonate may be sourced from oyster shells, for example. Also, oyster shells and other sources such as bonemeal are higher in lead than others (N.B. citrate and refined carbonate contain the lowest forms of lead, which is an important consideration if you’re planning on taking these supplements in the long-term).
Choose a Format That Works for You
Some tablets are large in size and this is a problem for people who have trouble swallowing pills and tablets. Chews, gummy candies and liquids may be a better option in this case, but remember this often means your supplement may contain corn syrup or aspartame and more calories — along with other ingredients such as food dyes.
Karen Kwan is a health and lifestyle freelance writer based in Toronto. She also has a blog, Health & Swellness.
Here are some other calcium sources for bone health.