Consumers often ask: How do I know the best calcium supplement to take? The simple answer to the question is that the best supplement is the one that helps you achieve your goal for taking it. Determining that one, however, can be confusing, even to medical professionals. There are too many brands to choose from, and all of them claim to be equally good for you. But, knowing what to look for can help you make better choices.
First, take a few minutes to read the “supplement facts” label. On it, you will find the dose for the supplement, amount per serving, and percent daily value. Percent daily value is simply the percent of the daily value provided by one dose. Take note of the calcium compound used to make the supplement; you’ll need it in step 2.
Step 2 is to determine the calcium content (a.k.a. elemental calcium) of the supplement per serving. Different calcium compounds have different elemental calcium. For example, calcium carbonate contains 40% elemental calcium; dicalcium phosphate is 38% elemental calcium; calcium citrate contains 21% elemental calcium; calcium lactate is 13% calcium and calcium gluconate is 9% calcium. What this means is that if you take 500 mg of a supplement with 40% elemental calcium, for instance, you will get 200 mg of calcium. By contrast, you will have to take at least 950 mg of a supplement with 21% elemental calcium in order to get the same amount of calcium.
Now that you know the elemental calcium, consider how well the supplement dissolves. This is what sets apart good calcium supplements from bad ones. If the supplement does not dissolve well in your stomach, you are unlikely to get maximum benefit from it. To test how well it dissolves, place a pill in a cup containing warm water. Let it sit for 30 minutes while stirring occasionally. If it does not dissolve well after 30 minutes, it is unlikely to dissolve well in your stomach.
While the ability to dissolve defines a good calcium supplement, absorbability determines the best calcium supplement for each individual. The supplement is of little value to you if your body cannot absorb it. Side effects like constipation, gas, and stomach upset are telltale signs of poor calcium absorption. If you develop these side effects from your supplement, try taking it in doses of 500 mg or less and with vitamin D. Such steps can improve its absorption. In general, most people absorb calcium carbonate well if they take it with food. But, calcium citrate is often recommended for those with digestive or absorption problems, and they can take it any time.
Finally, consider the purity of the supplement. Choose supplements that have the abbreviation USP on the label. USP, which stands for United States Pharmacopeia, is a government agency that sets quality standards for all prescription and over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements, and other healthcare products manufactured and sold in the United States. Avoid calcium from unrefined oyster shell, bone meal, or dolomite without the USP symbol; they may contain high levels of lead or other toxic metals.
Anyone looking for a calcium supplement can easily find one in the stores; picking out the right one for you is a different story. So, before you buy, read the “supplement facts” label carefully. Determine the calcium compound used in the supplement and its calcium content. Test how well it dissolves. Choose supplements with the USP abbreviation on their labels. If you develop side effects from your supplement, try a different brand or formulation, or talk with your doctor.