When Should I Take Calcium Supplements?

Is there any particular time of day that makes calcium more effective? Should I take it before meals, with meals, or between meals?

Depending on the type of calcium supplements you take, you may want to adjust the time of taking them. Because calcium carbonate tends to cause more stomach upset and needs stomach acid to be absorbed, it’s best to take it immediately after a meal. Calcium citrate can be taken any time.

Although calcium carbonate is generally absorbed best after meals, there are some substances and foods that can interfere with the absorption of any type of calcium.

For example, too much fiber in your diet can slow the rate at which calcium is absorbed by your body. How-ever, a high-fiber diet has also been associated with healthful changes, such as decreased risks of breast and colon cancer.

Increasing fiber in your diet can also decrease the constipation associated with calcium carbonate. Dividing the amount of calcium that you need into smaller doses to take throughout the day may pro-vide better absorption and fewer side effects of bloating and gas.

High levels of protein can also interfere with calcium absorption because protein binds to the calcium before it can be absorbed. Don’t take calcium with iron, caffeine, or excessive salt, because they also decrease absorption or speed excretion.

It’s best to avoid taking calcium with a big salad because the oxalates in leafy green vegetables combine with calcium to make an insoluble compound, rendering the calcium useless to you.

The best time to take calcium supplements that are not in the calcium carbonate form is before meals or at bedtime, when your stomach is relatively empty and absorption will not be influenced by foods, vitamins, or supplements.

If you are taking a medication such as Prilosec (omeprazole), its intended effect to reduce stomach acid production will interfere with your ability to absorb calcium carbonate, which should be taken when your stomach is most acidic (usually right after a meal).

It’s important to take your Prilosec or any stomach acid-inhibiting medications at a time other than with calcium carbonate so that you can absorb calcium more efficiently. Some clinicians believe that Prilosec and other medications that prevent acid production keep stomach acid low even following meals, so other forms of calcium might be best if you need these medications.

It sounds like there are a lot of restrictions around when it’s best to take calcium.

To make it somewhat easier to figure out a schedule, try this: Take all forms of calcium supplements except carbonate before break-fast.

Take calcium carbonate after breakfast as long as you don’t have caffeine, foods containing excessive salt or iron, or a leafy green salad.

If you are dividing up the calcium carbonate supplements (e.g., two tablets in the morning and two at night), you might try taking them after an evening snack when you’re less likely to have the foods or substances that interfere with absorption.

Other forms of calcium can be taken between meals throughout the day.