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Calcium Supplements: It Doesn't Have To Be Confusing

Calcium supplements are available for every age, price range and palate. The confusing array of choices include capsules, tablets, chewable wafers, drinks, shots, gummies, gumballs, and even chocolate treats.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fact Calcium-Supplements | ArticlePage on calcium: “Many Americans do not ingest recommended amounts of calcium from food. Approximately 44% of boys and 58% of girls aged 6–11 fell short in 1994–1996, as did 64% of boys and 87% of girls aged 12–19 years and 55% of men and 78% of women aged 20 years or older, according to the nationwide Continuing Survey of Food Intakes of Individuals.  The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2000 found that average calcium intakes were 1,081 and 793 mg/day for boys and girls ages 12-19 years, respectively; 1,025 and 797 mg/day for men and women 20-39 years; and 797 and 660 mg/day for men and women ≥60 years. Overall, females are less likely than males to get recommended intakes of calcium from food.” The NIH therefore recommends calcium supplements when appropriate.

Forms of Calcium
Calcium is unstable by itself and not found in nature alone.  It is always attached to another salt. For example, the calcium in milk is calcium lactate.  It is formed by the action of lactic acid on calcium carbonate. Inexpensive calcium supplements and antacids are comprised of calcium carbonate. It is found in rock, as well as in the shells of marine organisms, snails, pearls, and eggshells, coral, and certain sea algae. The calcium carbonate is the same, no matter the source, although calcium supplement marketers try to persuade the public to believe otherwise.

Other calcium forms include citrate, citrate malate, gluconate, lactate gluconate, hydroxyappatite (from cow bone), oxide and hydroxide, and bisglycinate. Very few calcium supplements are patented. AdvaCAL is a unique form of calcium oxide and hydroxide.  

The benefits of a given calcium form largely depend on the non-calcium salt involved.  The more difficult the bond between the calcium and the other salt, the more acidity in the stomach is needed to break the bond so that the calcium alone can be absorbed in the gut.  The other salt may also create a large pill size, gas, or reduce overall solubility.
Which calcium supplements are best? That depends on your particular needs. Several brands were compared based on six criteria:

  1. Providing 100% of the recommended DV of calcium in a daily serving
  2. Small pill size
  3. High solubility
  4. No stomach gas risk
  5. No dyes and preservatives
  6. Proven to build bone

Calcium-Supplements | ArticleOf the eight brands of supplements evaluated, AdvaCAL scored best by satisfying all six criteria.  Other brands met between two and four aspects of the criteria.

Never rely on price alone. A serving of algae calcium, providing 100% of the recommended calcium intake, costs about $1.80 per day.  A serving of the identical calcium form – calcium carbonate --- found in leading supermarket brands, costs about 30 cents per day.  Price may not be reliable gauge of quality or benefit of various calcium supplements.