Calcium supplements cause gallstones. However, gallstones made of calcium are generally rare in adults. According to a 2007 article in the “Journal of Pediatric Surgery,” gallstones made of calcium account for 5 to 30 percent of gallstones. The remaining percentage of gallstones are made of cholesterol. Calcium carbonate gallstones tend to occur more frequently in children. About a quarter of children with gallstones have calcium carbonate stones. Family history and nutrition are factors that affect the likelihood of calcium carbonate stone formation.
Gallstones are generally hardened deposits of digestive fluid that develop in your gallbladder, MayoClinic.com explains. Gallstones generally cause no overt symptoms to occur unless they block the ducts that connect to the gallbladder. This causes sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in your upper right abdominal area. Two common types of gallstones are cholesterol stones and pigment stones. Cholesterol stones are made of cholesterol that has not been dissolved. Pigment stones are generally made of bilirubin. Tests that determine the presence of gallstones range from the use of ultrasound and computerized tomography as well as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography and blood tests.
Calcium and Gallstones
Calcium supplements are sometimes used to help prevent osteoporosis and ensure you get sufficient amounts of calcium for your daily needs. However, calcium also plays a crucial role in forming pigment gallstones, according to a 1989 article in “The Journal of Surgical Research”. An experiment involving prairie dogs demonstrated that calcium supplements increases bilirubin levels. Increased bilirubin elevates the risk of pigment gallstone formation. This suggests that long-term calcium supplement use increases your risk of developing gallstones.
Oral dissolution therapy involves the use of bile acid medications to dissolve gallstones, the University of Maryland Medical Center notes. This treatment is usually effective for patients with cholesterol gallstones less than 1.5 cm in diameter. Gallstones composed of bilirubin or calcium generally do not respond to oral dissolution therapy. Surgery is another method of treating gallstones and is sometimes necessary when treating pigment or calcified stones. Surgical procedures sometimes necessitate the removal of the entire gallbladder. Antibiotics are sometimes necessary if the gallstones have caused infection.
Other Side Effects
Calcium supplements also cause other side effects such as dizziness, flushing, arrhythmia and nausea, MayoClinic.com says. Rashes and sweating are also possible side effects of calcium supplements. Urination problems and sleepiness are possible side effects but are generally not very common. Taking too many calcium supplements sometimes results in constipation, appetite loss and mental depression. Elevated blood pressure, increased urination and sensitivity to light are also symptoms of calcium overdose.
- "Journal of Pediatric Surgery"; Calcium Carbonate Gallstones in Children; Stringer MD, et. al; 2007 October
- "The Journal of Surgical Research"; Oral Calcium Promotes Pigment Gallstone Formation; Magnuson TH, et. al; April 1989
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Gallstones and Gallbladder Disease; Harvey Simon; June 2009