Calcium supplements contain varying amounts of elemental calcium. For example, calcium carbonate is 40% calcium by weight, whereas calcium citrate is 21% calcium. Fortunately, elemental calcium is listed in the Supplement Facts panel, so consumers do not need to calculate the amount of calcium supplied by various forms of calcium supplements.
Many claims are made about calcium’s potential benefits in health promotion and disease prevention and treatment. This section focuses on several areas in which calcium is or might be involved: bone health and osteoporosis; cardiovascular disease; blood pressure regulation and hypertension; cancers of the colon, rectum, and prostate; kidney stones; and weight management.
Various bone mineral density (BMD) tests are available. The T-score from these tests compares an individual’s BMD to an optimal BMD (that of a healthy 30-year old adult). A T-score of -1.0 or above indicates normal bone density, -1.0 to -2.5 indicates low bone mass (osteopenia), and lower than -2.5 indicates osteoporosis. Although osteoporosis affects individuals of all races, ethnicities, and both genders, women are at highest risk because their skeletons are smaller than those of men and because of the accelerated bone loss that accompanies menopause. Regular exercise and adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D are critical to the development and maintenance of healthy bones throughout the life cycle. Both weight-bearing exercises (such as walking, running, and activities where one’s feet leave and hit the ground and work against gravity) and resistance exercises (such as calisthenics and that involve weights) support bone health.
Several studies have linked higher calcium intakes to lower body weight or less weight gain over time. Two explanations have been proposed. First, high calcium intakes might reduce calcium concentrations in fat cells by decreasing the production of parathyroid hormone and the active form of vitamin D. Decreased intracellular calcium concentrations in turn increase fat breakdown and discourage fat accumulation in these cells. Secondly, calcium from food or supplements might bind to small amounts of dietary fat in the digestive tract and prevent its absorption. Dairy products, in particular, might contain additional components that have even greater effects on body weight than their calcium content alone would suggest.