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Surprising Side Effects of Taking Calcium Supplements After 50

What you can expect to experience if you're one of the many over-50 crowd who is taking a calcium supplement.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

If you have joined the 50+ club, you may have started noticing some changes in your body. From feeling a bit more tired to literally noticing your body shrinking, there are some natural progressions that can happen as we get older.

Because of this, older folks may have to pivot their diet and supplement plans to meet their changing needs. One perfect example is how calcium needs change as our bodies become more mature.

For women, calcium requirements increase from 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day to 1,200 mg per day once they reach 51 years old. And for men, their needs increase to 1,200 mg per day once they reach the age of 71.

Calcium is a key mineral that supports bone health, heart health, weight management, and many other factors of our health. Some of the best sources of calcium are found in dairy foods—think milk, yogurt, and cheese, as examples. But about 90% of the U.S. population does not meet dairy recommendations. The percentage of Americans who drink milk as a beverage on a given day is 65% among young children, 34% in adolescents, and about 20% for adults.

When people are coming up short on their calcium intake, supplementing this mineral is oftentimes a viable plan B.

If you are over the age of 50 and you are one of the many people who are taking calcium supplements, here are some side effects you may experience. And for more on how to stay healthy as you age, don't miss the Surprising Effects of Taking Vitamin D Supplements After 50.

1

You may not absorb all of the calcium that you take in.

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If you are taking large doses of calcium at one time, you may not be absorbing all of it.

For optimal absorption, the dose of calcium should not exceed 500 mg per dose, as the body doesn't absorb more than this amount of calcium very efficiently at a time.

If more than 500 mg/day of supplementation is needed, the dose should be divided.

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2

You may have a hard time absorbing iron.

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Calcium can inhibit your body's ability to absorb iron when both minerals are taken at the same time. If you are taking supplemental iron, be sure not to take this supplement with a calcium supplement. Your best bet is to take them at different times of the day.

3

You may have stronger bones.

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As we age, our risk of osteoporosis increases. In fact, once many of us reach the age of 30, we start slowly losing bone mass, making it more likely for us to suffer from weak bones.

Calcium is stored in our bones and helps them stay strong. If you are not taking in enough calcium, you can have weaker bones.

Calcium supplementation may reduce bone loss by 0.5-1.2% and the risk of fracture of all types by at least 10% in older people, according to some data.

But know that the connection between calcium supplements and bone health in older adults isn't black and white, as results from a different study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that older adults who take calcium supplements may not have as much bone protection from this mineral supplementation as we once believed.

4

You may experience constipation.

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Certain calcium supplements can lead you to feel some unsavory GI side effects—specifically constipation. Especially if you are taking calcium in the carbonate form, having bathroom troubles may be in the cards.

Chronic constipation can already be a concern for older adults, so compounding this natural challenge with binding supplements can cause even more issues.

Leaning on calcium citrate may be a better choice if constipation has struck.

5

You may have an increased risk of kidney stones.

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If you have a history of kidney stones, downing calcium supplements may not be your best bet, as 80-90% of kidney stones are made of calcium.

Many older adults suffer from kidney stones, so this is clearly a concern for this population.

Large doses of supplemental calcium, especially if taken separately from a meal, may lead to stone formation in those who are susceptible to this challenge. Calcium supplements should be taken with a meal if stone formation is a concern.

RELATEDThe Best Meal Plan If You're Over 50, Says Dietitian

6

You may have an increased risk of heart attack.

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While eating a diet rich in calcium appears to be protective against heart attack, taking calcium supplements is actually linked to an increase of the risk, according to a 10-year study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

If you are already at risk of having a heart attack, you should talk to your health care provider before you start loading your body up with calcium supplements.

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Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC
Lauren Manaker is an award-winning registered dietitian, book author, and recipe developer who has been in practice for almost 20 years. Read more
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