Calcium supplements for osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a medical condition defined by decreased bone density, which leads to bone weakness and an increased risk of fractures.
Globally, osteoporosis affects around 200 million people, including about 10 million people over the age of 50 in the United States. Females are more likely to develop osteoporosis because of hormonal changes that occur around menopause.
Medical experts have discovered that calcium supplements could help reduce the risk of bone fractures and disease progression in osteoporosis.
How does calcium help with osteoporosis?
Calcium is a mineral and an essential component of bone tissue.
Your body absorbs calcium from certain foods and stores the excess in your bones. However, if less calcium is absorbed in the intestine, blood calcium levels will drop. Your body then secretes a hormone called parathyroid, which causes calcium to release into the blood.
Not getting enough calcium from your diet, or having a medical condition that affects the parathyroid hormone, will result in less calcium in your bones. The bone mass slowly reduces, and the bones weaken and fracture more easily.
Researchers have found that taking calcium supplements can reduce bone fractures and slow the process of bone tissue loss in people at risk of osteoporosis.
An older 2007 analysis of randomized trials reported on over 63,000 people ages 50 or above and at risk of osteoporosis. Researchers noted that taking calcium supplements was associated with a 12% risk reduction in fractures.
The analysis also revealed a 24% reduced risk of bone fractures in people who followed their calcium supplement intake instructions.
Which calcium supplements are best for osteoporosis?
The amount of calcium in supplements varies between types, with the most common being:
- calcium carbonate
- calcium citrate
Healthcare professionals recommend taking calcium carbonate with a meal so your intestine can absorb the calcium better. You can take calcium citrate without food.
A doctor will look at your medical history to determine the most appropriate form of calcium supplement for you.
For instance, you may benefit most from calcium citrate if you:
- take certain medications, including histamine-2 blockers
- have achlorhydria, a condition where your stomach doesn’t produce hydrochloric acid
Calcium lactate and calcium gluconate are other types of calcium supplements. They contain less calcium and may not be readily available as oral supplements.
Many supplements include vitamin D because it is essential for calcium absorption.
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Risks of calcium supplements
The risks of calcium supplements vary for each person. Possible side effects include:
- intestinal gas
Taking lower doses of calcium supplements, or taking them with meals, may help reduce gut discomfort.
It’s important to take calcium supplements under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Taking them without this supervision may raise your blood level of calcium too much and can increase risks of the following:
The recommended dietary calcium intake for adults over 18 years is typically 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams (mg).
Your daily calcium requirement depends on several factors, such as:
- health status
However, it’s important to talk with your doctor to confirm your unique calcium needs.
Your body absorbs calcium best when you take small doses, such as 500 mg at a time or less. You may have to take your supplement several times per day.
Dietary sources of calcium
Most plant and animal foods contain calcium in varying amounts.
High calcium foods include:
- plain yogurt
- cottage cheese
- calcium-fortified orange juice
- baked beans
- raw broccoli
- calcium-fortified cereals
- fresh spinach and kale
In addition to eating calcium-rich foods, certain people may still need a supplement.
The body absorbs a limited amount of calcium at a time, so it may be best to separate calcium supplementation from a calcium-rich meal.
You can work with a healthcare professional to personalize calcium supplementation for individual results.
Osteoporosis is a condition defined by lower bone density, bone weakness, and a higher risk of fractures.
Not getting enough calcium in your diet and certain medical conditions can decrease your blood calcium levels.
Research has shown that calcium supplements may help reduce bone fractures and slow the process of bone tissue loss in people with osteoporosis.
There are various forms of calcium supplements, but the common ones are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate.
It’s important to talk with a doctor before taking any calcium supplements due to their side effects and health risks.
- Calcium and vitamin D: Important at every age. (2018). https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/nutrition/calcium-and-vitamin-d-important-every-age
- Calcium: Fact sheet for health professionals. (n.d.). https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/
- Osteoporosis. (n.d.). https://health.gov/healthypeople/about/workgroups/osteoporosis-workgroup
- Porter JL, et al. (2022). Osteoporosis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441901/
- Straub DA, et al. (2007). Calcium supplementation in clinical practice: A review of forms, doses, and indications. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17507729/
- Tang, BM, et al. (2007). Use of calcium or calcium in combination with vitamin D supplementation to prevent fractures and bone loss in people aged 50 years and older: A meta-analysis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17720017/