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Should You Take Calcium Supplements?

If you’re confused by the conflicting advice on calcium supplements, here’s the bottom line.

Even the experts are confused: On the one hand, calcium helps keep your bones strong. On the other, calcium supplements have been shown to build up the plaque that can clog your arteries, making you more prone to heart attacks, especially if you’re a women over 50. So should women take extra calcium or not -- and how much do they need anyway?

The answer, say doctors: It depends.

First, the facts on calcium: Everybody needs calcium -- the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that all adults get 1000 mg per day, with 1200 mg recommended for women over age 50. In fact, calcium may have other benefits besides its bone-building abilities. Dr. Richard Kelley, author of The Fitness Response who practices in Austin, Texas, also says that boosting the calcium intake in your diet can help you fight fat.

In addition to calcium, your body needs vitamin D so it can absorb the calcium. That’s why the NIH recommends 600 IU of vitamin D daily for most people.

Most people still get their calcium from foods -- dairy, especially, but even green leafy vegetables, sardines and fortified OJ. But according to the NIH, most adults don’t get enough calcium in their diet. That’s why doctors used to recommended supplements as a matter of course -- until now.

The bottom line on supplements: Discuss your situation with your doctor. Dr. Dana S. Simpler, an internist in Baltimore, says that she now looks at each patient individually and takes into account that person’s risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. If she decides supplements are the way to go, she recommends the person take 600 mg. Dr. Kelley does the same. If a lab test shows that a patient’s deficient in calcium and has no risk or family history of heart disease, he recommends they take 400 to 800 mg a day.

So if your doctor recommends supplements for you, remember these tips: Stick to small doses (500 mg or less) several times throughout the day with food, and don’t forget the vitamin D!

Do you take calcium supplements?




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