Family Health Guide

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Vitamins and Supplements: Calcium

Nutrient: Calcium

Why It's Important:  You probably already know that calcium is vital to building and sustaining strong bones, but it is also necessary for almost every function in the body, including nerve conduction, hormone secretion, and contraction of the blood vessels and muscles. 

How to Get Enough:  Calcium is found in dairy products (the best sources of the mineral), as well as dark green vegetables, and some fish, such as canned salmon and sardines with the bones.  If you consume three servings of low-fat dairy products (yogurt, cheese, milk) per day, you should get enough calcium. Less than that amount or its equivalent, and you’ll need a supplement.

      Before/During/After Pregnancy:  The DRI for calcium (1,000 mg./day) remains constant throughout the childbearing years, even during pregnancy. That’s because the body becomes better able to absorb calcium from food during pregnancy so even though needs go up slightly, additional supplementation usually isn’t necessary.  Most prenatal vitamins contain only small amounts of calcium (typically 300 mg.), because the calcium molecule is too large to put much in a combination pill. Many doctors recommend a calcium supplement in addition to a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin, particularly for women who consume few or no dairy products. “I ask each newly pregnant patient what her daily calcium intake is in her diet, add that with the calcium in her prenatal vitamin and recommend supplementing to get up to 1000 mg. calcium per day,” says Dr. Gregg.  “A calcium-containing antacid such as Tums (calcium carbonate) can do the job. They are relieving heartburn, common during pregnancy, and getting calcium at the same time.” Calcium citrate is easier to absorb because it doesn’t require the presence of extra stomach acid. Calcium carbonate should be taken with a meal.