Calcium Supplements and Constipation

Most women who are on calcium supplements report constipation as one of the side effects. This HealthHearty article explains why calcium supplementation often leads to constipation, and how it can be prevented.
HealthHearty Staff
Calcium is rightly called the 'building block' of body. It is a necessary nutrient for strong and firm bones. As we age, the calcium content in the bones begins to diminish. Osteoporosis is a calcium deficiency disorder, in which bones become fragile and weak. Post menopausal women are the prime victims of osteoporosis. Calcium supplements are often recommended to reduce the loss of bony tissue due to osteoporosis. However, they somehow interfere with the body's excretory system, and bring about constipation in an individual.
Role of Calcium in Body
Calcium is an essential component in bone formation. In fact, our bones and teeth are made of hydroxyapatite, a compound made up of calcium and phosphate. Our bones continuously undergo reformation, hence, there is always a need for calcium. Besides, calcium is also needed for the proper functioning of the body. When the calcium level in the blood drops, calcium from bones is utilized to perform these functions. However, as we grow old, our body cannot meet the calcium demand from diet alone.
Calcium Supplements and Constipation
The daily requirement of calcium in the body is about 1200 mg to 1300 mg, for adults. It may vary depending upon the age, gender, and built of the individual. Also, calcium demand is high for pregnant and post menopausal women. This increased demand of calcium cannot be met through diet alone, thus, calcium supplements are often recommended to pacify the calcium requirement of the body. However, while going on supplements, it is imperative to select the right supplement. The various factors to be considered while selecting calcium supplements are - purity, absorbability, tolerance, and possible interaction with body functions. The supplements are available in various forms, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, calcium citrate, calcium acetate, calcium citrate malate, calcium gluconate, calcium lactate, calcium lactogluconate, tricalcium phosphate, etc.
Calcium carbonate is supposedly responsible for reducing the frequency of bowel movements. Of all the forms, calcium carbonate is the most constipating. As a result, there is a decreased urge of defecation. If the problem persists for long, it may develop into constipation. Calcium carbonate also interferes with the gastrointestinal functions, and often leads to formation of gas or bloating. However, these side effects occur only in people who are not able to absorb calcium properly. Otherwise, calcium supplement does not cause any ill effects.
How to Prevent Constipation Due to Calcium Supplements
➺ If calcium carbonate is the cause of constipation, you may switch to the more expensive varieties of calcium supplements like calcium phosphate and calcium citrate.
➺ Taking the supplement with food can help increase its absorbability, as the presence of food in the stomach promotes the release of acid which helps break down the supplement. The food also slows down the movement of calcium in the intestines allowing more time for calcium to be absorbed. This helps prevent constipation. However, calcium citrate does not require acid to break it down. So, it can be taken with or without food.
➺ You may consult your physician and take calcium supplements that come with vitamin D. The vitamin promotes absorption of calcium in your body, and can lower the side effects.
➺ Calcium supplements are better absorbed when taken in small doses (500 mg or less). Also, it is better to start with a small dose. You may increase it gradually.
➺ Excess calcium intake definitely causes constipation. So, try to space out the dosages throughout the day. For instance, if you are supposed to take two doses per day, take one in the morning and one at night.
➺ You should drink 6 to 8 glasses of water each day. Similarly, supplement your diet with lot of fiber and fluids, which facilitate easy bowel movement.
➺ And last but not the least, you should increase your physical activity, as this also can help lower the symptoms of constipation.
➺ Try to get as much calcium from diet, as possible. Fortified fruit juices and low fat dairy products are a good source of calcium. As a result of increased intake of calcium rich foods, you may need a low dose of calcium supplement.
Researchers and doctors have yet to find concrete evidence linking the intake of calcium and resulting constipation. However, if you face the problem of constipation while on calcium supplements, you can switch to calcium citrate or follow the tips given above, to overcome the problem.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.