Since we were babies, our mothers encouraged us to drink milk to build strong bones. Calcium is essential for building and maintaining strong bones, as well as for the proper functioning of the heart, muscles, and nerves. However, as adults, how do we get calcium? Our bodies don’t produce calcium, so we must obtain it from other sources such as milk, cheese, yogurt, dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli and kale), cereal, and fish fortified with calcium.
If you are wondering what is the smartest way to obtain calcium, or if doctors recommend taking supplements, here we provide you with the do and don’ts.
Before rushing to buy calcium supplements, what do experts say?
- According to Erin Michos, MD, MHS, associate director of preventive cardiology for the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, taking calcium supplements is not recommended. She explains that nutrients in pill form are not processed the same way in the body as those obtained from food sources.
- Evidence suggests that calcium supplements may have no health benefit or could even be harmful, potentially linked to heart disease.
- The relationship between calcium supplements and prostate cancer is also controversial, with some studies indicating an increased risk associated with high calcium intake from dairy products and supplements.
- The body can only process up to 500 milligrams of calcium at a time, and if due to calcium supplements your body has excessive calcium levels, this could potentially trigger blood clots.
- Calcium supplements are not suitable for everyone, particularly those with hypercalcemia (excess calcium in the bloodstream).
Here’s what you need to know:
- It’s best to meet your calcium needs through your diet, as the body absorbs nutrients more effectively when obtained from food. Good dietary sources of calcium include almonds, oranges, dried figs, soybeans, garbanzo beans, white and pinto beans, and low-fat dairy like milk and yogurt, as well as leafy green vegetables such as spinach.
- For most women, focusing on boosting dietary calcium intake and engaging in weight-bearing exercises is the best way to maintain strong bones.
- Osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak and fragile bones prone to fractures, is more common in women, with 80 percent of the 10 million Americans affected being female.
- To absorb calcium, your body requires vitamin D. Few foods naturally contain small amounts of vitamin D, such as salmon with bones and egg yolks.
- Certain factors can make it challenging to get enough calcium, such as following a vegan diet, having lactose intolerance, limiting dairy products, consuming excessive protein or sodium, undergoing long-term corticosteroid treatment, or having certain bowel or digestive diseases that hinder calcium absorption, like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease.
If you choose to take calcium supplements, it is advisable to do so with meals rather than alone, as the acid in stomach juices aids in its breakdown. Avoid taking calcium supplements with very high-fiber meals. Additionally, if you’re taking an iron supplement, avoid taking it at the same time as your calcium supplement, as they can interfere with each other’s absorption.
If you have concerns about meeting your calcium needs, consult your doctor before starting any supplements to determine if they are necessary for you.