Calcium supplement, therapeutic uses of supplements


Research suggests that taking calcium supplement later in life can slow the bone loss associated with osteoporosis. Treatment which combines calcium and estrogen is likely to be better at building bone than treatment with estrogen alone, according to a review published in 1998 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers analyzed the results of 31 studies and found that the postmenopausal women who took estrogen alone had an average increase in spinal bone mass of 1.3 per cent per year, while those who took estrogen and calcium supplement had an average increase of 3.3 per cent. Increases in bone mass in the forearm and upper thigh were also greater in women taking supplements. The added benefit from the calcium was seen when the women increased their intake from an average of 563 mg per day to 1200 mg per day.

Another study done in 1997 at Tufts University in Boston showed reduced rates of bone loss and fractures in men and women over 65 who took calcium and vitamin D supplements. Researchers assessed the effects of calcium (500 mg per day) and vitamin D (700 IU per day) on 176 men and 213 women aged 65 years or older. After a three-year period, those taking the supplements had higher bone density at all body sites measured. The fracture rate was also reduced by 50 per cent in those taking the supplements.

Calcium supplementCalcium supplement has also been shown to increase bone mass in children, although a 1996 study done in Hong Kong found that when the supplements were stopped, the beneficial effects disappeared.

Protection against the side effects of corticosteroid drugs

One of the side effects of corticosteroid drugs, which are often used to treat arthritis, asthma and other chronic diseases, is a loss of bone mineral density and therefore an increased risk of osteoporosis.

In a study done in 1996 at the Medical College of Virginia, researchers showed that calcium and vitamin D supplements can help prevent this loss. In the two-year study, 96 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, 65 of whom were taking corticosteroid drugs, were given 1000 mg calcium and 500 IU vitamin D per day or placebo. The researchers analyzed the bone mineral density of the lumbar spine and femur for one year. In those patients taking corticosteroid drugs and placebo losses of bone mineral density were seen. In those taking the supplements, gains were seen and in those not taking corticosteroids, the supplements did not appear to affect bone mineral density.

Blood pressure

Some studies have shown that calcium supplements lower blood pressure in mildly hypertensive patients, while others have shown no effect.

In an eight-week randomized, placebo-controlled study done in 1985 in the US, researchers assessed the effect of 1000 mg per day of calcium supplements on the blood pressure of 48 people with hypertension and 32 without. Compared with placebo, calcium significantly lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressures, but only in those with high blood pressure.

Results from the University of Pittsburgh Trials of Hypertension Prevention (TOHP) showed calcium supplements (100 mg per day) to have little effect on blood pressure. The participants were healthy adult men and women (both white and African American) aged 30 to 54 years with high-normal diastolic blood pressure. However, the supplements did seem to lower blood pressure in white women, who are at particular risk of low calcium intakes. Supplements may be beneficial in cases where calcium intake is insufficient, which may be relatively common. Whether calcium can lower blood pressure in cases where there is no apparent deficiency is not clear. Increasing calcium intake may lower blood pressure by increasing the excretion of sodium and calcium supplements may be most useful in those who are salt sensitive.

The results of a study, reported in 1997 in the British Medical Journal, suggest that women who take calcium supplements in pregnancy have children with lower blood pressures. Researchers measured the blood pressures of almost 600 children of women who had previously been involved in a double-blind trial of the effects of calcium on blood pressure during pregnancy. The results showed that, overall, systolic blood pressure was lower in the calcium group, particularly among overweight children.

Calcium supplementMuscle cramps

Calcium can be used to control the incidence of leg cramps in pregnant women, possibly by decreasing nerve irritability. It has also been used to reduce the incidence of menstrual cramps and symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome.


Use of calcium supplement during pregnancy may lower a woman's risk of pre-eclampsia, a disorder which occurs in one in every 20 pregnant women. Symptoms of pre-eclampsia are high blood pressure, headache, protein in the urine, blurred vision and anxiety. It can lead to eclampsia, a seizure disorder which can cause complications with pregnancy and even death. There is some evidence that abnormalities in calciummetabolism are involved in pre-eclampsia. Many pregnant women do not consume enough calcium to ensure optimal blood pressure regulation and the results of several clinical trials have suggested that calcium supplements reduce the incidence of pre-eclampsia.

A 1996 analysis of clinical trials which looked at the effects of calcium intake on pre-eclampsia and pregnancy outcomes in 2500 women found that those who consumed 1500 to 2000 mg of calcium supplements per day were 70 per cent less likely to suffer from high blood pressure in pregnancy.

However, in a study published in 1997 in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that calcium supplements did not prevent pre- eclampsia. The study, the largest ever done on the subject, involved 4589 healthy, first-time mothers. Half of the subjects received 2000 mg of calcium per day and the other half received a placebo. The researchers then assessed the incidence of high blood pressure and protein excretion in the urine. No significant differences in the groups were found. Supplements did not reduce other complications associated with childbirth or increase the incidence of kidney stones.

The results of this study still leave open the possibility that a calcium supplement may be useful as the women included in the study were already consuming higher than average levels of calcium than is typical even before they took the supplements. Women at high risk of pre-eclampsia were also not included in the investigation.

Other uses

Calcium supplements can be useful in congestive heart failure as they increase the contractility of heart muscle. Calcium salts are used intravenously to treat heart attack associated with high potassium and magnesium levels and low Calcium levels. They are also used in cases of calcium antagonist drug overdose. Calcium supplements have also been used to treat allergy complaints, depression, panic attacks, arthritis, hypoglycemia, muscle and joint pains. Calcium salts are a major component of antacids which are used to treat indigestion and ulcers. Taken with magnesium, they may have neuromuscular relaxing effects and may be useful in insomnia.

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