Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 20 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for more than 15 years. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.

There has been a lot written about calcium lately. Some of the buzz has been negative, saying that too much calcium can be responsible for cardiac issues. But let’s not jump to quick conclusions that we don’t need calcium supplements at all.

Education is the best prescription, so let’s get started.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and is responsible for building strong bones and teeth as well as aiding in tasks like hormone transmission, nerve conduction and muscle function, just to name a few. Most of the calcium in our bodies is stored in bones and teeth. As we age, bone formation slows and bone breakdown increases, thereby making calcium supplements necessary for many of the aging population.

Calcium is found in foods like dairy products, soy products, canned fish, dried beans and calcium-fortified grocery items like orange juice and even cereal.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers a calcium “shopping list” and lets you calculate how much calcium you need based on age and sex. 

When you look at food labels to determine calcium content, you may see calcium listed as a daily value percentage rather than in milligrams of calcium. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration developed daily values to help consumers compare products with respect to certain nutrients. The DV for calcium is 1,000 mg for most adults and children over the age of four. Foods that provide 20 percent or more of the DV of calcium are considered good sources of calcium.

A large percentage of the population, especially post-menopausal women are taking 1,000 mg of calcium daily divided into two equal doses. This is because calcium is absorbed best when no more than 500 mg is consumed at one time.  Caffeine and alcohol may decrease calcium absorption as well as foods containing phytic acid and oxalic acid. Examples of foods containing phytic acid include fiber-containing whole grain products, beans and nuts. Oxalic acid can be found in collard greens, spinach and sweet potatoes. Of course all these foods should not be off limits; remember, the key to healthy eating is balance. 

Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, and many calcium supplements contain vitamin D. As with calcium, individual vitamin D requirements vary depending on age and the area of the country you live in. People who live in areas with little sunshine or who have darker skin may need more vitamin D.

The best recommendation of calcium and vitamin D comes from your own health care team. Remember that many factors are involved in how much calcium is right for you.  Kidney function plays a major role in calcium metabolism and chronic kidney disease can cause very low or very high calcium levels, both of which can pose a health risk.

As for the recent concerns that calcium has led to heart problems in some patients, medical researchers and health care professionals are still evaluating the claims. This by no means translates into stop taking calcium!  Check with your healthcare team to get your questions addressed.  Problems occur when communication is lacking – so, ask questions!