Calcium: Are You Taking the Right Amount?

What is too much calcium? What’s not enough calcium? You may have noticed some recent media coverage about calcium. Confused? Don’t feel alone. How much calcium is a frequently asked question. Over the years, actually the answer has changed.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine issued new recommendations. Take note of the recommended amount for your age and sex. The upper level of calcium intake was revised down. Too much calcium may put you at risk for kidney stones. In addition, a controversial analysis of a group of studies suggested a small increase in heart attacks with higher than 2000 milligram calcium intakes.

Calcium Recommended Daily Intakes
2010 Institute of Medicine

in years
in milligrams
Upper Level
in milligrams
1-3 500 2500
4-8 800 2500
9-18 1300 3000
19-50 1000 2500
Women 51+ 1200 2000
Men 51-70 1000 2000
Men 71+ 1200 2000

Be aware this is the total of amount of calcium. Remember food counts. So first add up what you are getting from your diet. Subtract that amount from your total goal. If needed, then supplement with your pill, chew, liquid, chocolate disk, or powder of choice.

Even if you consume no dairy products, which are the highest sources of calcium, you are probably taking in about 300 milligrams of calcium from other sources. If your recommended intake is 1200 milligrams a day then only 800 milligrams is needed (1200 mg total – 300 mg food = 800 mg supplement). The 800 mg should be divided into 2 doses rather than all at one time.

Bone up on food sources of calcium. Chose those foods to increase your calcium the “natural” way. Add supplements if your diet does not supply enough. Based on usual calcium intakes in the US, most Americans are not getting enough.

Today NPR aired a story on calcium. Listen to what Dr. Ethel Siris, Director, Toni Stabile Osteoporosis Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and Dr. Robert Eckel, a past president of the American Heart Association, say about calcium, bone health, and your heart.

Sources: Bailey, R.L., K.W. Dodd, and J.A. Goldman. “Estimation of Total Usual Calcium and Vitamin D Intakes in the United States.” Journal of Nutrition 140 (2010): 817–22.

Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2010.

Photo: 4BoneHealth