Your body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals -- collectively known as micronutrients -- to keep it healthy and operating properly. One of the important minerals you need to maintain the health of several different body systems is calcium, which you can obtain from food or from supplements. There are several forms of supplements, including calcium citrate and calcium gluconate, available for purchase.
Your Calcium Needs
There are a variety of reasons your body needs an adequate supply of dietary calcium. The most familiar on is that your skeletal system is made up of a hard matrix consisting in part of calcium -- as such, you need calcium to maintain the integrity of your bones. Dr. Lauralee Sherwood, in her book "Human Physiology," points out that your heart beat also depends upon calcium, as do the rest of your muscles, which need calcium to contract.
There are many different ways that you can get calcium into your diet. Foods such as dairy and leafy greens are excellent sources of calcium, for instance. However, you can also supplement with pills or chewable tablets containing various forms of calcium salts. Calcium citrate is a very common calcium salt available as a supplement. Less common, but also available for purchase, are tablets of calcium gluconate. The calcium in these supplements acts identically in the body.
Calcium Citrate and Calcium Gluconate
Despite the fact that the calcium from any supplement source acts identically, there are some differences between calcium citrate and calcium gluconate. The most important of these is that calcium gluconate contains far less calcium per unit mass than calcium citrate. In a 2007 article published in the journal "Nutrition in Clinical Practice," nutritionist Deborah Straub points out that only 9 percent of the mass of calcium gluconate is actually calcium, meaning you'd need to take more than 12 typical tablets of the supplement to get your daily required calcium intake.
While calcium gluconate isn't as sensible a dietary calcium supplement as the far more practical -- and less expensive -- calcium citrate, it does have other advantages. For instance, calcium gluconate helps to bind fluoride ions. As such, it's the treatment of choice for hydrofluoric acid burns, which can occur in industrial settings. Further, it's used to treat overdoses of magnesium sulfate, which is sometimes administered to pregnant women to stop premature labor.