I don’t recommend supplements often (food is the smartest source for nutrients), but when it comes to boosting your bones, a calcium supplement can be effective — as long as you pick the right ones. Think you’re covered with a multivitamin? Nope! Find out why.
Why Calcium Is Important
Plain and simple, calcium helps keep our bones strong. When they become weak and fragile, it’s a condition known as osteoporosis, and our bones are more prone to fracture. An estimated 44 million Americans have or are at risk for the disease; women are four times more likely than men to be affected.
Calcium isn’t a lone ranger, though. The nutrient works along with vitamin D to maintain bone strength and stability — the D enhances our calcium absorption. If your diet is lacking either, your bones will pay the price. Besides in supplements, you’ll find vitamin D in foods such as milk, egg yolks and salmon. Your body also produces some when your skin gets some sunlight. Still, many studies are finding that many people aren’t getting enough. This is where a supplement can come in handy.
To learn more about bone health and osteoporosis, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation website.
What to Look for in a Supplement
We’re supposed to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. Adolescents, pregnant women and women over age 50 can benefit from even more (closer to 1,300 milligrams). You can get it food, but it can be tricky, especially if you’re not a fan of dairy products. Multivitamins won’t cover it either. Since calcium is naturally large, fitting enough in a vitamin would make the pill even larger and harder to swallow than it already is. A separate calcium supplement is the way to go. If you’re one of those folks who hates swallowing pills, there are many good — and delicious — chewable pills available (see our picks below).
Look for a calcium supplement that comes along with vitamin D. Sometimes the supplement will include magnesium, which also helps with bone strength. Another common question: calcium carbonate or calcium citrate? Both forms get the job done, but you may only find one at your drug store or health food store. If you opt for the carbonate form, take it on a full stomach and not at the same time as an iron supplement or multivitamin that contains iron; it interferes with iron absorption. We metabolize calcium citrate a little differently — it’s easier to digest and you can take it with an iron-containing multivitamin. If you’re eating calcium-rich foods and taking a supplement, either form should cover you.
The Most Important Thing to Remember
Our bodies can only absorb 500 milligrams of calcium at a time, so it’s a waste to take all 1,000 milligrams at once. I find it works best to take 500 milligrams in the morning and another 500 at night before bed. Some research also shows that taking calcium at night helps you get to sleep — that’s where that “glass of warm milk” idea came from.
Here are our recommendations for calcium supplements.