Featured in Living Without Magazine - June / July 2010
Calcium is the most abundant mineral
in the human body with 99
percent found in the bones and
Most Americans don’t get sufficient
amounts of this vital mineral to maintain
healthy bone mass, which increases their
vulnerability to developing osteoporosis
and bone fractures later in life.
us with dairy allergy or milk intolerance or
with malabsorption issues related to celiac
disease are at particular risk and should
pay close attention to our calcium intake.
The body needs adequate calcium in
the bloodstream for proper functioning of
nerves, muscles and the heart. Maintaining
steady blood levels is top priority—the
body will steal the mineral at the expense
of the bones and teeth.
The idea is to get as much calcium from
diet as possible. Dairy is the best-known
source, with Swiss and cheddar cheeses
being among the most calcium-rich foods.
But if you’re avoiding dairy, there are good
plant sources, such as almonds, bok choy,
chestnuts, chickpeas, hazelnuts, kale, kelp,
sesame, soybeans, sunfl ower seeds, tapioca
and walnuts. Canned sardines, mackerel
and salmon also have high levels if
consumed with the bones.
For adults, the recommended daily intake
of calcium is 1000 mg. Children need 500
to 800 mg, pregnant and nursing women
need 1200 mg, postmenopausal women
need 1200 to 1500 mg, and teens need
1300 mg daily. It’s important for teens to
get enough to build optimal bone density
while they’re young, reducing the risk of
osteoporosis later in life.
Getting adequate vitamin D3 is critical
to calcium absorption. Certain other things
also help absorption, such as vitamin C,
amino acids glycine and lysine, and having
suffi cient stomach acid.
Other items, such as too much chocolate
and oxalic and phytic acids (found in many
fruits and vegetables), tend to block absorption.
If your diet is very high in animal fat,
alcohol, caffeine, dietary fi ber and protein,
you’re apt to be losing calcium through the
kidneys and intestines.
Blood tests don’t accurately reveal your
body's calcium stores (usually assessed
with a DEXA scan measurement of bone
density). Rather, blood tests monitor shortterm
calcium levels in the bloodstream.
Low calcium, a condition called hypocalcemia,
can indicate depleted vitamin D supply,
impaired parathyroid or some other
systemic issue. Symptoms include muscle
spasms, numbness and tingling of hands,
feet, lips, tongue and muscle aches. High
calcium, hypercalcemia, can indicate parathyroid
problems or cancer.
If you have celiac disease or you’re on a
dairy-free diet, consider taking a calcium
supplement. The most common and inexpensive
form is calcium carbonate, which
requires suffi cient stomach acid for proper
absorption. “Chelated” calcium, a supplement
that’s attached to an amino acid like
citrate or glycine, costs a bit more but is
For best absorption, any form of supplemental
calcium should be taken in divided
doses of 500 mg each or less.
Calcium is a mild muscle relaxer that
can calm the nerves and be a bit sedating.
If you suffer from fatigue or have insomnia,
take your supplements later in the day,
Christine Doherty, ND, is a licensed naturopathic
doctor who specializes in food allergies and
perhaps one at dinner and another at bedtime.
A calcium supplement can interfere
with the absorption of certain medicines,
such as antibiotics, so it’s best not to take
medications at the same time you’re taking
Supplements tend to be constipating.
If this is a problem for you, balance your
calcium with magnesium, which has the
opposite effect, and, of course, take vitamin
D3 (up to 2000 IU daily). These two
work synergistically to decrease constipation
and enhance absorption.
Because calcium is critical to health at
every stage of life, it’s important to eat
calcium-rich foods every day. Consult with
your doctor to determine the calcium supplement
and the recommended dosage
that works best for you. LW
Christine Doherty, ND, is a licensed naturopathic doctor who specializes in food allergies and celiac disease. Consult your health care practitioner before taking supplements.
Reprinted with permission from Living Without Magazine