Calcium not only supports the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, but it's crucial for muscle and nerve function as well. It's an important mineral for women especially, since their calcium needs tend to exceed men's. You can find calcium in foods like dairy products and some leafy greens, but if you don't eat these foods regularly, taking the right calcium supplement can help provide extra amounts of the mineral. Choosing one with magnesium may have additional benefits.
Two of the most common forms of calcium supplements are calcium carbonate and citrate. According to the National Institutes of Health, calcium carbonate is inexpensive and is best absorbed when taken with meals. Calcium citrate may be more costly, but dosing is more flexible. It can be taken any time of day, with or without food, because it's absorbed equally well on an empty or full stomach. Calcium citrate is also a better choice for older people who may produce less stomach acid or for those who take acid-blocking medications for heartburn, since it's more easily absorbed with low levels of stomach acid compared to other types of calcium supplements.
Magnesium is another essential mineral that plays a role in more than 300 biochemical reactions in every organ in the body, including regulation of calcium levels. Adequate levels of magnesium are needed, along with vitamin D, for calcium to be absorbed and used properly. Magnesium is found in many whole foods, including whole grains, nuts and leafy green vegetables, but anyone who eats lots of processed foods and not enough whole foods may not get enough of this mineral.
A Delicate Balance
Some researchers have speculated that there is a required balance between calcium and magnesium in the body. In an April 2011 article published in "PLOS One," researchers determined that subjects with low magnesium levels and an elevated calcium-to-magnesium ratio had an increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer. According to Andrea Rosanoff, director of Research and Science Information Outreach at the Center for Magnesium Education and Research, a high intake of calcium can worsen a low magnesium condition, especially if you take too much calcium alone in the form of a supplement.
Cost and Convenience
A calcium citrate supplement that also has magnesium not only provides extra amounts of two very important minerals in an easily absorbable form, but it's also a simple way to control the dosing of each and keep the two minerals in balance. Taking one supplement rather than several is more convenient and should also prove more cost-effective. To be sure you're taking the correct supplement in the proper dose, discuss your needs with your health care provider.