What You Should Know Before You Start Taking Calcium Supplements

Calcium is one of the most important minerals for the body, contributing to a strong skeletal system and protecting against bone fractures and osteoporosis. To be sure they're getting enough calcium, some people may choose to add a calcium supplement. But there are a few things to be aware of.

The first is that it's a much better idea to try to get calcium from your diet if and when you can. Erin Michos, M.D., MHS, and associate director of preventative cardiology for the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, told Johns Hopkins Medicine Health, "A nutrient in pill form is not processed in the body the same way as it is when ingested from a food source. Furthermore, people believe that the proof that calcium supplements fortify bones is more robust than it really is."

Studies have implicated calcium supplements in a higher risk of colon polyps and kidney stones, and possibly an increased risk of calcium buildup in arteries of the heart.

Good dietary sources of calcium include almonds, low-fat dairy, leafy green vegetables, soybeans, oranges, and garbanzo, white, and pinto beans.

When you take it is important

If you are going to take a supplement there are some guidelines to follow. Your body needs stomach acid to break down calcium supplements, so take them with meals (via American Bone Health). And try not to take them while eating a lot of fiber. Fiber and calcium can bind together, which makes the calcium less effective.

The recommended daily intake for women over 50 is 1,200 mg and for men up to age 70 it's 1,000 mg. After age 70 men should aim for 1,000-1,200 mg daily. But don't take it all at once. Your body can only absorb about 500-600 mg at one time, so take a lower-dose supplement with each meal.

Calcium supplements are generally well-tolerated but can produce side effects in some people. These can include gas, constipation, and bloating, according to the Mayo Clinic. There are several types of calcium supplements including calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, calcium gluconate, and calcium lactate, which have varying amounts of elemental calcium. Calcium carbonate, which has the most elemental calcium, is most likely to cause constipation.

Calcium supplements and some prescription medications can interact, causing issues with efficacy of the medication. If you're taking medication for blood pressure, thyroid disorder, antibiotics, bisphosphonates, or calcium channel blockers, speak with your doctor about the best time to take your medications and your supplements.