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What do calcium supplements do and should you take them?

Mar 19, 2012, 9 a.m.

Everyone's always talking about the wonderful benefits of calcium supplements for those sailing smoothly into their sunset years, but are you really aware of what it does and why you should be taking it? Before you go shopping for the best calcium supplement the local health food store has to offer, read this quick primer on its benefits, as well as potential calcium supplements side effects that you may be at risk of experiencing.

What Do Calcium Supplements Do?

One of the major health problems that comes with aging is a weakening of bones. This is called osteoporosis, a condition with increasing likelihood the older you get. It's also one that many older adults aren't aware they suffer from until the inevitable occurs: the breaking of a bone. Many doctors recommend calcium supplements to guard against this.

What Else is Calcium Effective Against?

Aside from treating osteoporosis by strengthening bones, calcium is also used to reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in younger women; increase the bone density of developing fetuses; and lower thyroid hormone levels in individuals who have experienced kidney failure. Its primary benefit for aging adults, however, is evidenced by calcium's ability to reduce bone loss that occurs naturally, as well as bone loss that's exacerbated by the regular use of corticosteroids. It's also thought that calcium supplements can be effective in treating other ailments.

  1. High cholesterol
  2. High blood pressure
  3. Lowering body fat
  4. Stroke prevention in women
  5. Tooth loss in the elderly
  6. Cutting the risk of developing colorectal cancer

Calcium Supplements Side Effects

While all of this sounds great and it appears there should be no reason not to stock up on the best calcium supplement money can buy, there are some possible side effects. As long as calcium is taken in safe doses, the following calcium supplements side effects can be avoided:

  1. Excessive gas or belching.
  2. Sending your blood's phosphate levels soaring too high or dropping too low. Ingesting too much calcium can cause an imbalance in your body that can negatively affect phosphate levels.
  3. Interaction with thyroid hormone replacement drugs. If you are taking medication for an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), taking calcium supplements can interfere with this and negate your thyroid medication's effects. This doesn't mean that you can't take both thyroid medication and calcium; it only means that when you are taking both, you should separate your doses of each by a time frame of at least four hours.
  4. Interaction with other drugs. There are other drugs whose effectiveness may be diminished or canceled out by taking calcium supplements, including antibiotics, bisphosphonates, calcipotriene, digoxin, diltiazem, levothyroxine, sotalol, verapamil, and water pills.

What to Do Next

If you're concerned about the possibility that you may develop osteoporosis, or if you don't want to wait until you break a bone to find out if you're at risk, talk to you doctor before prescribing yourself a daily dose on your own. Often, doctors will not only recommend calcium supplements but also a balanced diet to go along with them to maximize their effectiveness. Your doctor will be able to run a battery of tests to determine if your calcium levels are low. If you're a smoker, be prepared to have your doctor strongly recommend quitting in order to allow your body to absorb calcium. Smoking is known to have an effect on your body's absorption of calcium, and can complicate many of your efforts to achieving good health. Talking to your doctor will also give you good insight into what is the best calcium supplement to take, as well as which brands and dosages to avoid.

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