Aimee Benbow gives us some advice on what we should be looking out for when making decisions about calcium supplements
Calcium supplements are widely purchased by the aging population to support bone health, but what should consumers look out for when purchasing a good calcium supplement?
Several different kinds of calcium compounds are used in calcium supplements. Each compound contains varying amounts of the mineral calcium known as elemental calcium. Common types of calcium used in supplements are:
- Calcium carbonate (40 percent elemental calcium)
- Calcium citrate (21 percent elemental calcium)
- Calcium gluconate (9 percent elemental calcium)
Therefore more calcium gluconate would be required to obtain a set level of elemental calcium compared to calcium carbonate for example. Calcium in supplemental form can either be derived from earth source such as limestone, or it can also be derived from algae sources.
Population groups which may be at higher risk of calcium deficiency include those with certain digestive disorders such as Coeliac Disease, which may lead to poor absorption, those with osteoporosis, those with a high-protein diet, those with milk allergies or with lactose intolerance, and vegans due to avoidance of dairy, a major food group providing calcium.
Therefore in these population groups, calcium supplementation may be required to ensure adequate intake of the essential mineral. When choosing a calcium supplement the following points should be considered:
Does the supplement contain any unnecessary synthetic fillers, binders or coating agents? Tablets are often made up of glue, binders and fillers and for most people this is just an irritating fact, but for people who are hyper allergenic, this can be a real issue. Supplements in powdered format provide ease of assimilation and so reduces the energy and digestive process required to dissolve compacted tablets.
Is the supplement free of flavouring, colouring, or sweetening agents? These are not needed and the supplement should just provide pure nutrition. Ensure the product is free from genetically modified organisms and irradiation.
Are the minerals in the supplement bio-available? Look out for those bound to organic chelating agents such as malic acid, ascorbic acid, citric acid, and amino acids.
- Supportive nutrients
Does the supplement contain any other nutrients? If taking calcium for bone health, consider taking a calcium supplement formulated alongside magnesium and Vitamin D which also play an important role in bone health.
What level of elemental calcium does the supplement provide? Ensure you find out the exact level of actual (elemental) calcium the supplement provides as often supplements are labelled: Calcium Citrate 1000mg. How much of the 1000mg is calcium and how much is the citrate? This should be clearly defined.
What is the supplement packaged in? As well as being inert therefore unable to react with the supplements, amber glass protects the supplements from direct sunlight and is 100% recyclable therefore better for the environment.
Are you purchasing this supplement at your local health food store? If so, the staff will be able to offer advice about the most suitable calcium supplement for you.
Aimee Benbow is the Technical Manager at Viridian Nutrition and graduated from the University of Surrey in 2008 with a degree in Nutrition and currently studying for a Masters in Nutritional Medicine. She has worked in both the supplement and food industries creating educational resources.