Results of new studies question past beliefs in that, just as some “wonder drugs” enjoy years of esteem and then new findings negate that, so it happens with supplements as well. This is the case with supplemental calcium.
Calcium is a mineral found in nature, occurring in many highly useful compounds such as calcium carbonate, of which marble, limestone and chalk are composed. It is found mostly in teeth and bones, but also in many body fluids as a complex combination which is essential to muscle contraction and the clotting of blood. In addition, calcium helps the nervous system work properly by the transmission of nerve impulses. Ingesting calcium is one major way to help prevent the brittle bone disorder called osteoporosis, a debilitating disease in which the bones get thin, breaking easily and healing slowly. Additionally, in recent studies evidence was found that calcium might play a key role in reducing the risk of colon cancer. This finding reinforces the growing body of research that has pointed to calcium’s potential anti-cancer effects. Nutritionists recommend getting calcium from food, especially dairy products, which may have other anti-cancer effects as well.
In a different study, researchers concluded that a high daily intake of calcium might protect against heart disease and heart attack, as well as play a beneficial role in high blood pressure. These experts believe that calcium binds with bile acids to form compounds that help prevent the absorption of dietary cholesterol. They also concluded that any benefit derived from calcium in milk products is negated if the products contain fat.
The formation of kidney stones has been associated with excess supplemental ingestion of calcium; however, some experts believe dietary calcium decreases this formation. Check with your doctor regarding calcium if you have any history of kidney stones. According to the National Institutes of Health, more study on the calcium-kidney stone link is needed. The effects of certain medicines such as antibiotics are lessened when taken with calcium-rich foods, so they should be taken two hours before or afterward.
Vitamin D helps the body use calcium, but check with your physician before adding the vitamin (or for that matter, even taking calcium). You may also obtain enough vitamin D if you consume an appreciable amount of dairy products or are out in the sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes daily. As one grows older, the absorption of calcium is lessened, so the need for supplemental vitamin D is even more essential.
Having said that, new studies by prestigious medical centers have shown that supplemental calcium may damage the heart and vascular system increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, whereas ingesting calcium through a diet high in calcium-rich foods appears to be protective. After ten years of medical tests, researchers concluded that taking calcium in supplements may raise the risk of plaque buildup in arteries and heart damage. It is now recommended to have a consultation with a knowledgeable physician before using calcium supplements, as well as vitamin D.
Some foods which are high in calcium are: milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, tofu, salmon, sardines, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, watercress and broccoli, seeds, rhubarb, nuts and beans. Many foods including cereals, breads, rice and orange juice may be fortified with calcium. It is important to note that low or non-fat dairy products contain the same amount of calcium as the high-fat products.