Calcium is essential to a variety of physiological processes. The body doesn't produce calcium, so you must get enough calcium from your diet. Adults up to age 50 should get at least 1,000 mg of calcium per day, and adults over 50 should get at least 1,200 mg daily. Dairy products are the primary dietary source of calcium. If you can't get consume or absorb enough from food, your doctor is likely to recommend a calcium supplement. You can take steps to help keep calcium supplements from causing constipation, which is one of the leading side effects reported with supplementation.
Begin calcium supplementation with one daily dose of 500 mg for a week. Add a second dose of 500 mg after another week. If your doctor prescribed a third dose, add it in your third week. Letting your body gradually adjust to the increase in calcium helps prevent constipation. Apply this method similarly even if your prescribed doses aren't the same; divide the total by three, and build up to it over three weeks.
Refrain from taking more than 500 mg of calcium at one time. This is all the body can absorb at once, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Add fiber to your diet. In particular, get more insoluble fiber from whole grains, vegetables and seeds. Insoluble fiber helps keep bowel movements regular and prevent constipation. Also add soluble fiber, too, from legumes, fruit and nuts.
Drink six to eight glasses of water every day. This is especially important to preventing constipation with added dietary fiber.
Talk to your doctor if you also take other medications or supplements with a binding effect or that cause constipation. Ask about a different dosage or alternative treatment.
Consult your doctor about a lower calcium supplement dosage, or about changing the type of calcium supplement you take. Different types and lower doses may be better tolerated and cause fewer side effects such as stomach upset and constipation. Calcium carbonate supplements generally contain the most elemental calcium per dose, while calcium citrate, calcium phosphate and calcium gluconate all offer smaller quantities per dose.
Consult your doctor before beginning a supplementation regimen, and mention any side effects you experience.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Calcium
- New York State Department of Health; Commonly Asked Questions About Calcium Supplements; November 2003
- Harvard Health Publications: What You Need to Know About Calcium
- MayoClinic.com; Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet; November 2009
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fiber: Start Roughing It!