If you know you should be taking calcium for healthy bones, but you’re not sure what type or how much to take, you’re not alone. All too often, people misread a supplement label and don’t get the amount — or type — they need, says Chad Deal, MD, who treats osteoporosis at Cleveland Clinic.
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Dr. Deal offers three simple tips for getting what you need from a supplement.
1. Check the serving size
“Most calcium supplements have a serving size of two,” Dr. Deal says. “So most patients who walk into the office and think they’re on 1200 are actually on 600, or think they’re on 1,000 and are actually on 500 because the serving size is two.”
On top of that, serving sizes may go as high as three to six. Pay attention so you don’t take too little — or too much — based on your doctor’s recommended amount.
2. Look for elemental calcium
When reading the label, pay special attention to how much “elemental calcium” is listed. This is the most important measurement; it’s the amount of calcium actually available to your body.
“Calcium carbonate preparations, which are the most common kind of calcium we take as supplements, are about 40 percent calcium,” Dr. Deal adds. In other words, a 500-milligram pill of calcium carbonate will contain 200 milligrams of elemental calcium.
If your doctor has recommended that you get a certain amount of calcium each day, make sure you are getting that amount in the form of elemental calcium.
3. Pay attention to the type
As Dr. Deal notes, calcium carbonate is the most common type of supplement. But there are others, and each type contains different levels of elemental calcium. Calcium citrate, calcium lactate and calcium gluconate are all options, but each contains less elemental calcium than calcium carbonate, for example.
In addition to reading labels carefully, talk to your doctor before taking any supplement. The amount you need from supplements varies based on your age, your health and how much calcium you get from foods.