Osteoporosis Home > Calcium

Calcium is a popular dietary supplement used for keeping the bones and teeth healthy. There are several different types of this mineral; some work as an antacid, and some may lower blood pressure. Although there are many benefits of this supplement, it is also possible to develop side effects while taking it, such as constipation, kidney stones, and belching.

What Is Calcium?

Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for healthy bones and for several important functions in the human body. It can be obtained through the diet (such as through dairy products) or through supplementation. Calcium supplements are among the most popular dietary supplements available. Although many of the benefits of calcium have been known for quite some time, recent research suggests that there may be some interesting, previously unpredicted benefits of the supplement.
The most commonly used types of calcium supplements are calcium carbonate (including "coral calcium") and calcium citrate.
(Click What Is Calcium Used For? for more information on what the mineral is used for.)

How Does It Work?

Most of the calcium in the human body is stored in the bones and the teeth. While many people think of bones and teeth as being permanent, unchanging structures, they are actually being constantly broken down and rebuilt. It is absolutely essential to keep a certain steady level of calcium in the blood. If blood calcium levels are too low, the body will break down bone and teeth to increase the blood calcium levels. If the blood levels are high, then the body uses the extra calcium to rebuild bone and teeth.
The important functions of calcium in the body are too numerous to list entirely in this article. Quite simply, the body cannot function without adequate amounts of calcium in the blood (which is why the body will weaken the bones if necessary to preserve the calcium levels in the blood in the case of a calcium deficiency). A few of the ways calcium might work for specific uses include:
  • Calcium carbonate works as an antacid by binding to hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
  • It can bind to phosphate in the digestive system (preventing the phosphate from being absorbed), and it is sometimes used to help prevent or treat high phosphate levels in people with kidney disease.
  • It might work to lower blood pressure by causing the kidneys to excrete more sodium through the urine. Sodium causes water retention, which can contribute to high blood pressure (hypertension).
  • It might work for weight loss by inhibiting the formation of fatty tissue and increasing the breakdown of fatty tissue, possibly by decreasing levels of the hormone calcitriol.
  • Women often experience a drop in calcium levels just before their menstrual periods. This might explain how the supplement may work for premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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