Diet Extra: The Calcium-Weight Loss Link

There's encouraging news for people who've been losing the battle of the bulge. Why? Because weight loss may be at hand -- if that hand begins reaching for a glass of milk, slice of cheese or dish of yogurt (all low-fat, of course). The role of calcium for weight loss may indeed be the hottest health news this season.

So, what's the connection? Studies suggest that low levels of calcium appear to turn on a gene that tells cells to make more fat and inhibit fat breakdown. In turn, boosting calcium to about 1,600 mg per day enhances weight loss. That amounts to just three or four daily servings of low-fat dairy products in order to adjust your body's fat-burning machinery.

A study that focused on the connection between calcium and weight loss in women conducted at Purdue University found that, despite how much the women exercised, those who consumed higher levels of calcium lost more body fat than the women with calcium deficient diets. Another two-year study found young women, who had the highest intakes of calcium from dairy foods lost the most weight and adipose fat on weight control programs, regardless of exercise level.

So, now that you know calcium is important, how much should you take and how should you get it? According to studies, those who got their calcium from dietary sources lost more body fat, but those given calcium supplements (when combined with a restricted calorie diet) also did very well. Calcium carbonate is generally the least expensive and the most widely used (85 percent of all calcium supplements sold in the U.S. are made from calcium carbonate). Calcium carbonate is also used frequently in antacids.

Calcium carbonate comes in swallowable tablets (for example OsCal) and in chewable forms (like Tums). Calcium citrate is the second most common form of supplement and is commonly available as a swallowable tablet or as a solution. Both forms of calcium supplement have been studied quite thoroughly for their effects upon the body. Both calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are extremely safe and have been used to supplement daily calcium intake by up to 2,000 mg per day in men and women of all ages.

Calcium carbonate is the most concentrated calcium supplement and has about twice as much elemental calcium by weight as calcium citrate. Therefore, it requires fewer or smaller tablets to achieve a given dose of elemental calcium.

Occasionally, individuals beginning calcium supplementation report bloating or gas. If this occurs, it is probably due to an adjustment to the new daily regimen of higher calcium intake. Calcium carbonate is best absorbed when ingested along with food. Calcium citrate has been shown to be best absorbed when taken without food. In healthy individuals, absorption of the two forms of calcium appears to be about the same, and both forms also appear to be as well absorbed as calcium from milk in healthy people.

In the small number of individuals with achlorhydria (no stomach acid), calcium citrate appears to be better absorbed. However, this difference seems to be less relevant if the calcium carbonate is taken with food. Healthy people, who do not get enough calcium from their diet and wish to supplement their calcium intake should feel comfortable choosing either carbonate or citrate. It's easy to remember to take a supplement with meals, and calcium carbonate is a good choice in this case -- and probably more convenient (as calcium carbonate supplements require a lower number of tablets per dose and are generally lower in price).

However, keep in mind that calcium is no magic bullet. What the study says is that: higher-calcium diets favor burning rather than storing fat. Calcium changes the efficiency of weight loss, but you still need to follow a diet plan like the ones here at eDiets.