What is calcium?
Calcium is an essential mineral found in our body. About 90 percent of the calcium in your body is found in bones and teeth, while the remaining 10 percent is found in the blood. Calcium is responsible for nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and blood clotting. If the level of calcium in your blood is low, your body will extract it from your bones and increase the supply in your blood to maintain balance. Because of this, it’s very important to ensure you are consuming enough calcium.
What kind of calcium supplement is right for you?
There are many different types of calcium supplements available on the market, and they come in varying doses, preparation, and combinations. What’s best for you may depend on how much calcium you need in reference to your age and medical condition (if one exists).
The mineral calcium, commonly known as elemental calcium, exists naturally along with other substances, called compounds. Several different kinds of calcium compounds are used to manufacture calcium supplements. Each compound contains varying amounts of elemental calcium.
Calcium carbonate (40 percent elemental calcium) is one of the two major forms of calcium supplements. The other one is calcium citrate (21 percent elemental calcium), which works the same as calcium carbonate but has a bigger price tag! These supplements make your bones stronger and healthier. At the same time, they balance the calcium levels needed by your body. For better absorption, calcium carbonate should be taken with food.
Other common calcium supplements may be labeled as calcium gluconate (9 percent elemental calcium) and calcium lactate (13 percent elemental calcium).
Is there a link between calcium supplements and heart attacks?
While calcium supplements have some obvious health benefits, a study published in the British Medical Journal (July 2010) showed a link between calcium supplements and heart attacks.
There were 11 different studies where people received more than 500mg of calcium each day. These studies showed that calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart attacks by 30 percent. It was also stated in this study that calcium supplements are associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction. Another theory based on the study states that calcium increases the hardness of the blood vessels, which may lead to heart diseases.
According to an editorial written at the University of Aukland, New Zealand and published in the journal Heart1, getting calcium from food is a safer alternative. This study followed about 24,000 German men and women between the ages of 35 and 64, and found those who regularly took calcium supplements were 86 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who did not. Study subjects who relied completely on supplements for their daily calcium intake were 139 percent more likely to have a heart attack. Despite these findings, doctors still believe that calcium supplements are essential in the maintenance of healthy bones, but do note they should be taken with caution.
More research needs to be done before scientists can know exactly how calcium supplements affect heart health. These studies also did not note what type of calcium supplement increased the risk of heart attack.
The bottom line is this: calcium is an important mineral in maintaining healthy bones. This is especially important as we get older. Most of the calcium you consume should come from natural resources and is the best way to keep your calcium levels balanced. Supplements should be taken under the guidance of your physician.
Natural sources of calcium
Dairy foods – Milk, yogurt, cheese
- Leafy green vegetables – Broccoli, kale, spinach
- Fruits – Oranges
- Beans and peas – Tofu, peanuts, peas, black beans, baked beans
- Fish – Salmon, sardines
- Miscellaneous – Sesame seeds, blackstrap molasses, corn tortillas, almonds, brown sug