Calcium supplements are one of the most common dietary supplements sold on the market today, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Understanding how to take calcium supplements -- including how often, which brand you tolerate best and the maximum dosage allotment per day -- helps absorption and can prevent unwanted side effects such as abdominal cramping, nausea and constipation.
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A report in the January 2011 "Journal of Nutrition" notes that more than half of the people living in the United States are taking vitamin and mineral supplements. Calcium is near the top of the extensive list of popular dietary supplements. The National Institute of Arthritis and Muscoskeletal and Skin Disorders recommends calcium supplementation for individuals who do not take in enough calcium in their diet. Calcium is an essential mineral responsible for heart rate function, nerve conduction, hormone secretion, blood clotting and bone health.
The Office of Dietary Supplements reports that the recommended dietary allowance for calcium ranges from 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams per day for the adult population. The upper limit for calcium is 2,000 milligrams per day. Taking larger doses than the recommended upper limit may cause abdominal cramping, constipation, nausea and muscle cramping. Be aware that eating dairy-rich foods as part of a regular diet while taking calcium supplements also may contribute to abdominal pain.
Dosing Calcium Supplements
To maximize calcium absorption and prevent abdominal cramping, the Office of Dietary Supplements recommends dividing the dose of calcium throughout the day. The body can metabolize only 500 milligrams of calcium at a time. Taking quantities greater than 500 milligrams contributes to losses in the urine and may cause abdominal cramping, gas and constipation. It is best to take calcium one to three times a day to benefit bone health and prevent adverse effects in the gastrointestinal tract.
Calcium supplements most often use carbonate or citrate as the base. People who struggle with abdominal pain when taking calcium supplements should consider taking calcium citrate, which often is better tolerated than calcium carbonate. Speak to your health care professional before starting any dietary supplement to make sure it does not interact with other prescribed medications.
- National Institute of Arthritis and Muscoskeletal and Skin Disorders: Calcium and Vitamin D, Important at Any Age
- National Institues of Health-Office of Dietary Supplements: Calcium Fact Sheet
- University of Washington: Calcium to Treat and Prevent Osteoporosis
- "Journal of Nutrition"; NIH and USDA Funding of Dietary Supplement Research; Karen Regan, et al.; January 2011