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Calcium and GERD

author image Heather Gloria
Heather Gloria began writing professionally in 1990. Her work has appeared in several professional and peer-reviewed publications including "Nutrition in Clinical Practice." Gloria earned both a Bachelor of Science in food science and human nutrition from the University of Illinois. She also maintains the "registered dietitian" credential and her professional interests include therapeutic nutrition, preventive medicine and women's health.
Calcium and GERD
Dairy products made from cow's milk pose problems for people with GERD. Photo Credit appleboxgoodies/iStock/Getty Images

GERD, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a medical condition characterized by recurrent bouts of heartburn and other symptoms of acid indigestion. Heartburn due to GERD often gets worse when you bend, stoop or lay down. It is more frequent or severe at night, and it is often relieved by taking antacids. If you have heartburn more than twice a week, MedlinePlus says you may have GERD. People being treated for GERD face special challenges when it comes to meeting calcium needs.


Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. MedlinePlus says that 99 percent of calcium in the body is stored in the bones or teeth. The remainder is found in muscle, blood and the fluid between cells. Calcium enables your muscles to contract, helps glands secrete hormones and enzymes and sends messages along nerve cells. The amount of calcium you require varies by your age and health status. GERD does not influence how much calcium you need, but it does influence your ability to obtain and absorb it.

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MedlinePlus reports that dairy products are the most significant sources of calcium for humans. However, in the 2007 edition of “Integrative Medicine,” University of Wisconsin professor David Rakel claims that cow’s milk inhibits the ability of the lower esophageal sphincter to close completely, enabling damaging acids to escape back int the esophagus. People who use acid-suppressing medications for GERD face additional risks. Your body requires acid to efficiently absorb calcium. Rakel notes that the incidence of osteoporosis and bone fractures is significantly higher in people who take medications to control their GERD.

Foods to Enjoy

In the 2004 edition of “Heartburn and Reflux for Dummies,” writer Carol Ann Rinzler and gastroenterologist Ken DeVault say that fat-free cream cheese and sour cream are safe. However, they suggest replacing all other cow’s milk dairy products with alternatives made from soy, rice, almond, sheep or goats’ milk. Nondairy food sources of calcium include tofu, salmon, sardines, shellfish, Brazil nuts and dried beans. Some vegetables also contain calcium, such as broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and bok choy or Chinese cabbage.

Foods to Avoid

With the exceptions of fat-free cream cheese and fat-free sour cream, Rinzler and DeVault suggest avoiding cow’s milk dairy products; higher fat cow’s milk dairy products usually cause more severe symptoms. Although some orange as well as other citrus juice products are now supplemented with calcium citrate, these are not safe for people with GERD because citrus irritates the esophagus.


If you have GERD, ask your doctor about monitoring your calcium status. She may suggest taking calcium supplements. The type of supplement you need depends on how your GERD is controlled. Calcium carbonate is inexpensive and works as an antacid, which may help control your GERD. Calcium citrate is more expensive and can be absorbed despite low levels of gastric acid. If you take acid suppressing medications to control your GERD, this is the type of calcium supplement you need.

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