Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Calcium Supplement Problems, Again?

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500 mg calcium supplement tablets, with vitami...

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You can get too much of a good thing- and this time its calcium again.  We need calcium for bone health – but again the food supply is loaded with calcium, not only dairy foods.

But a new analysis from the Women’s Health Initiative has found that calcium supplements are associated with an increased risk of kidney stones.

The study involved 36,282 postmenopausal women and half of them were randomly assigned to take 1,000 milligrams of calcium carbonate supplements and 400 IU of vitamin D for seven years; the rest were given a placebo.

All the women averaged about 1,145 milligrams of calcium per day from diet and supplements but those in the supplemented group boosted their intake to at least 1800 mg a day and were 17% more likely to develop kidney stones than the placebo group. In other words, 449 women developed urinary tract stones compared to 381 in the control group.

Calcium is known to be a factor in the formation of most kidney stones.  But this study used supplements to boost the intake.  On the other hand, women in the study with the highest dietary intake of calcium were 65% less prone to kidney stones than those with the lowest calcium consumption from the diet.

Now most experts agree that calcium needs should be met with diet alone (foods high in calcium along with calcium fortified foods (cereals and orange juice).  The threshold should be close to the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation of 1200 mg/day. But calcium supplementation can add to that recommendation quite easily.  For example, if you take a multivitamin/mineral supplement, most have about 300-400 mg/ calcium per tablet; most calcium supplements contain at least 300 mg – 600  per tablet and if you take antacids such as Tums, they contain about 300-400 mg per tablet.

The best dietary sources of calcium can be measured as CALCIUM EQUIVALENTS (each represents about 300 mg. calcium)

Milk 1 cup

Yogurt (low-fat,non-fat) 1 cup

Cheese (hard) 1/1/2 ounces

Ricotta cheese, part skim, regular ½ cup

Cottage cheese 2 cups

Powdered skim milk ¼ cup

Frozen yogurt, milk based 1 1/2 cups

Pudding, low-fat, nonfat 1 cup

Calcium fortified soy milk 1 3/4 cup

Canned salmon with bones 1 ¾ cup

Sardines with bones 5 ounces

Tofu, processed with calcium 1 ½ cups

Collard greens 1 cup (less absorbed)

Other Calcium Sources (but usually less absorbed)


Sesame seeds

Brazil nuts






Bottom Line:  For calcium, eat non-fat dairy, nuts, legumes, and leafy greens.

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