What is Elemental Calcium?

Christine Gray

Calcium is an essential dietary mineral that plays a vital role in muscle contraction, hormone secretion, nerve impulse transmission and bone growth and remodeling. Calcium is widely available in many foods, including dairy products, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals, but many individuals choose to augment their dietary calcium intake with supplemental calcium. The dietary supplement industry uses the term "elemental calcium" to refer to the amount of calcium available for use by the body in a supplement.

The RDA of calcium is 1,200 milligrams for adults ages 51 and older.
The RDA of calcium is 1,200 milligrams for adults ages 51 and older.

Calcium forms compounds very easily and is never found in its elemental form in nature. Supplemental calcium also exists in the form of calcium compounds, usually calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. The amount of this substance found in a calcium compound varies depending on the compound. Calcium carbonate is 40 percent elemental calcium and 60 percent carbonate, but calcium citrate is only 21 percent elemental calcium. A calcium carbonate supplement with a total weight of 500 milligrams, of which 40 percent is elemental calcium, supplies the body with 200 milligrams of absorbable calcium.

Supplements that contain calcium should report the amounts that are represented on their label.
Supplements that contain calcium should report the amounts that are represented on their label.

It is important for users to know the amount of elemental calcium in a supplement because it is the elemental form of calcium that is important when determining how much calcium an individual must consume to meet the daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of the mineral. The RDA of calcium is 1,000 milligrams for adults ages 19 to 50 and 1,200 milligrams for adults ages 51 and older. Supplements that contain calcium should report both the amount of elemental calcium contained and percentage of the RDA of calcium that amount represents on their label. The ingredients should also list in what compound the calcium is found.

Cottage cheese and many other dairy products are naturally rich in calcium.
Cottage cheese and many other dairy products are naturally rich in calcium.

Calcium carbonate is best absorbed when taken with food. It should be avoided by individuals who have shellfish allergies, because it is manufactured from oyster shells. Calcium citrate can be taken without or without food and is safe for those who have shellfish allergies. Supplemental calcium can also be found in gluconate, lactate and phosphate compounds.

Taking elemental calcium may cause bloating.
Taking elemental calcium may cause bloating.

Experts recommend that individuals take no more than 500 milligrams of elemental calcium at one time, because the body cannot efficiently absorb more than that amount. Larger doses of supplemental calcium can be achieved by taking 500-milligram doses of elemental calcium multiple times per day. Calcium supplements can cause gas, bloating and constipation, but these symptoms can improve if large doses are spread through the day and taken with food.

Users should know the amount of calcium in each supplement they take.
Users should know the amount of calcium in each supplement they take.
A pharmacist or healthcare provider may be able to offer advice on choosing over-the-counter dietary supplements, including calcium.
A pharmacist or healthcare provider may be able to offer advice on choosing over-the-counter dietary supplements, including calcium.
Taking calcium supplements may help strengthen bones and prevent fractures.
Taking calcium supplements may help strengthen bones and prevent fractures.

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Discussion Comments

anon313184

Can I do an experiment using minerals such as slate and granite with the mixture of vinegar? Will this produce calcium carbonate?

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