Calcium Confusion and Reading Supplement Labels Carefully
The Better Life Experts | May 29, 2009

Many of us are advised to use a calcium supplement if our daily requirements cannot be met through diet alone. Physicians may recommend a level of usage based upon elemental calcium, so it is important to read the labels on every supplement that you ingest. Elemental calcium is very important in the prevention of osteoporosis. Let’s take a look at calcium and its constituent parts.

Calcium is an element and cannot be broken down into other forms. Elements join together to form compounds, known as molecules. Calcium combines with carbon and oxygen (two other elements) to make a commonly known dietary formulation known as calcium carbonate. This molecule (calcium carbonate) contains elemental calcium, elemental carbon and elemental oxygen. Whew!

Okay, when calcium carbonate is digested, the calcium that was bonded to carbon and oxygen breaks off and returns to its elemental form. This amount is known as elemental calcium. For each tablet that contains 1,000 milligrams of calcium carbonate, only 400 milligrams (or 40%) is actually elemental calcium and becomes available for absorption through the digestive system. The rest of the tablet (about 60%) is carbon and oxygen.

Nearly all calcium supplements work similarly. They contain calcium compounds which in turn include different levels of elemental calcium, depending upon formulation. Calcium citrate, for example, provides 20% of elemental calcium, so a 1,000 milligram tablet of calcium citrate will provide approximately 200 milligrams of elemental calcium.

Calcium recommendations for men, women and children are given as milligrams of elemental calcium. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the following levels of elemental calcium should be ingested as follows:

0-6 months 210 mg.

6-12 months 270 mg.

1-3 years 500 mg.

4-8 years 800 mg.

9-18 years 1,300 mg.

19-50 1,000 mg.

51 and older 1,200 mg.

By choosing a brand of calcium supplements that meets U.S.P. (United States Pharmacopia) standards, dissolvability and absorption as well as purity standards can be assured. “Natural” sources of calcium in the form of bone meal or dolomite may contain toxic ingredients in the form of lead or mercury and therefore, should be avoided.

Since our diet is also instrumental in meeting some of our calcium needs, a future Bulletin will be devoted to providing information about which foods are best at helping us meet our daily quota of elemental calcium.
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