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I am intolerant to meat and milk products, but purely natural foods don't contain enough calcium for the Recommended Daily Intake. Links 2 to 4 (but NOT 1) avouch a correlation between calcium supplements and disease.

From [1. WebMD], "Keep in mind that there's really not that much difference between getting calcium in a supplement and calcium in food."
"Calcium-fortified foods -- such as cereals, some juices, and soy milk -- are excellent sources of the mineral, experts tell WebMD."

From [2. health.harvard.edu]: An 8-ounce portion of off-the-shelf orange juice contains about 300 mg of calcium. The calcium in fortified soy milk also compares favorably to whole milk. Breakfast cereals (which are also fortified) contain substantial amounts of calcium, especially when combined with low-fat milk. A portion of oatmeal on its own contains just 100 mg of calcium. “But if you cut up some dried figs and add it to a bowl of oatmeal with milk, you easily get about half of what you need without having any supplements,” Dr. Hauser says.

The calcium supplements in question list their ingredients as only either calcium citrate or calcium carbonate. In question of them, I then meticulously perused the ingredients of fortified orange juice, soy milk, rice milk, and cereals. However, I noticed from the listed ingredients that calcium carbonate appeared to be the sole one containing calcium.

1. How and why would the calcium carbonate from calcium supplements be averred as worse than that in the putatively better fortified foods?

2. Isn't solid calcium carbonate (eg in supplements) chemically the same as aqueous calcium carbonate (eg in fortified drinks)?

3. Are calcium supplements truly worse than fortified foods with calcium?

Sources: 1. WebMD, 2. health.harvard.edu, 3. NY Times Blog, 4. NY Times

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1 Answer 1

This is close to a personal medical question, so I'll try and be vague and avoid advice.

There's nothing inherently bad about calcium supplements, and those links and thousands of others that are easy to find tend to all say that same thing. Basically, for typical people on a typical diet, enough calcium is supplied through food that supplements are unnecessary. The problem arises when people take too many supplements, such that their intake is significantly higher than the daily recommended intake. These people can experience a number of symptoms, including kidney and heart failure. Fortified food and supplements are, as best as I can tell, no different, except that food is simpler route for intake with built-in limit-setting. That is, you can easily pop five calcium pills (BAD IDEA) but nobody is ever going to drink five containers of fortified soy "milk" on a whim.

My favorite example is that of astronauts. Astronauts in space for extended periods of time must take calcium supplements in addition to a strict exercise regimen to help stem the tide of bone loss. Bone loss still occurs, however, because they can only take so much calcium before it starts to cause serious heart problems. There's nothing inherently wrong with calcium supplements but for most people they are completely unnecessary. You should talk to your primary care physician and perhaps a dietician.

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