The Calcium Conundrum

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Nutritional Support
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

I often get questions about what form of calcium to buy. When it comes to calcium supplements,the calcium conundrum for most people, calcium carbonate—the most popular and inexpensive kind—will work just fine.

Most of the studies on calcium have been on calcium carbonate and they reveal that it is as bioavailable (easily absorbed) as the calcium in milk. However, depending on how calcium carbonate tablets are manufactured, they may not be well-absorbed by people deficient in stomach acid—a problem for some people over age 50.

To test their absorbency, place a calcium carbonate tablet in a half-cup of vinegar and stir occasionally. After half an hour, there should be no undissolved chunks of the tablet in the bottom of the glass. Taking calcium carbonate with food greatly enhances its absorption, as does supplementing with betaine HCl, a natural source of hydrochloric acid. (Quality supplements often include betaine HCl along with calcium.)

Calcium citrate is a more expensive option. Several studies have shown that calcium citrate is approximately 25 percent better absorbed than other forms of calcium. However, people’s ability to absorb different compounds vary, so your best bet may be a calcium supplement that contains a variety of calcium sources, including carbonate and citrate, as well as other chelates such as ascorbate, aspartate, or malate.

The only forms of calcium I specifically do not recommend are bone meal, dolomite, and oyster shell calcium, as these forms can contain high levels of lead.

Don’t Forget the Magnesium

I shudder to think of how many women take calcium pills day after day, hoping to prevent osteoporosis, without knowing that calcium should be taken with magnesium to be optimally absorbed into bones.

Magnesium is as important to bone health as calcium, and these two minerals compete for absorption in the body, so be sure your calcium supplement is balanced with magnesium in a 2:1 ratio (e.g., if you take 1,000 mg of calcium, combine it with 500 mg of magnesium).

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