We rely on calcium to help our bodies grow. But could this powerful mineral also have negative side effects? Read on to learn more about this mineral and how much you should be getting.

Share what you want to know about calcium »

1. Your body can’t produce calcium.

The human body — as well as all plants and animals — requires calcium to function. It plays a role in transferring nerve impulses, regulating blood pressure, causing the heart to contract, and clotting blood.

It’s a major part of tooth and bone health too. You can think of your bones as your body’s calcium reservoir. If you don’t get calcium in your diet, your body will take it from your bones.

You have to rely on your diet or on supplements to get the calcium you need every day. Foods that are high in calcium include:

  • dairy products such as milk and cheese
  • leafy greens such as a kale and broccoli
  • boney fish such as sardines

2. Your body uses calcium for a laundry list of functions.

According to the American Cancer Society, women can use calcium to decrease the severity of premenstrual symptoms.

The British Nutrition Foundation says that calcium can assist in regulating blood pressure, which is important in reducing the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. However, its ability to regulate kidney function requires more study.

Calcium has also sometimes been used to treat poisonous spider bites, but studies have found that this is one unique use of the mineral that is less efficient than other medications.

Did You Know?
Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, so make sure you’re getting enough of both.

3. There’s a recommended amount you should be getting every day.

How do you know if you’re getting enough calcium? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that adults get 1,000 mg every day. They also say that women over 50 should get 1,200 mg daily.

To give you an idea of how that number translates into your diet, one glass of 1 percent milk contains 305 mg of calcium. Check the United States Department of Agriculture’s helpful guide to see how much calcium is in your food.

4. If you don’t get enough calcium, you could wind up with osteoporosis or other ailments.

Not giving your body the calcium it needs increases the likelihood of having low bone mass. This can result in osteoporosis, or frail and porous bones that easily fracture. 

Osteoporosis is especially common in older women, which is why the NIH recommends they consume more calcium than their male counterparts. Children who don’t get enough calcium may not grow to their full adult height potential.


5. There are two recommended types of calcium supplements.  

A calcium supplement is one option if you don’t get enough calcium-rich foods. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are the two most recommended forms of calcium supplements.

Calcium carbonate is cheaper and more common. It can be found in most antacid drugs. It needs to be taken with food in order for it to work well. Calcium citrate doesn’t need to be taken with food and may be better absorbed by older people with lower levels of stomach acid. 

Did You Know?
The NIH recommends that women over 50 get more calcium than other people, as they’re at higher risk for osteoporosis.

Take note that calcium supplements do have side effects. You may have constipation, gas, and bloating. The supplements may also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb other nutrients or medications. Check with your doctor before starting any supplements.

6. OK, there’s actually one more type of (less common) calcium supplement.  

Another common form of calcium is calcium gluconate. While this type of calcium supplement is not as common, it’s still used for those with a calcium deficiency. Like calcium carbonate, it must be taken with food. Calcium gluconate is used to help lower blood potassium levels in acute cases of high blood potassium levels, or hyperkalemia.  

7. It may be a cure to — or a cause of — cancer.

Researchers are still investigating whether calcium promotes or prevents cancer. A recent study found that calcium could cause cancer cell growth in certain types of cancer, like prostate cancer. It also decreased the likelihood of other types, like breast cancer.

8. Vitamin D is calcium’s partner in crime.

One last important fact to know about calcium is that your body needs vitamin D in order to absorb it. So you can eat as many calcium-rich foods as you want, but your body can’t fully benefit if you have low vitamin D levels.

You can get vitamin D from foods like salmon and eggs yolks. Sunshine allows the skin to produce Vitamin D and is definitely a great source of vitamin D, too.

The Takeaway

Calcium is an essential nutrient that is required for maintaining health. Like with any mineral or nutrient, you should carefully monitor your calcium intake so that you aren’t getting too much or too little.