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Flurry Of Reports Hail Calcium Supplements

Calcium builds strong bones. And milk mustaches build strong advertising campaigns. But when you try to figure the ins and outs of calcium supplements, it can leave you weak. 

There seems to be agreement that the supplements are worthwhile, particularly for postmenopausal women who run an increased risk of osteoporosis because of declining estrogen levels. 

They also present a good alternative to the very controversial hormone replacement therapy for maintaining bone health. But the question for me always had been calcium carbonate (derived from oyster shell) or calcium citrate. 

The question was probably settled last year when research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition compared the absorbability and cost effectiveness of both supplements and found them equal in absorbability, the critical question. 
Given their equal value for bone health, the report said, "the cost benefit analysis favors the less expensive carbonate product." 

OK. If you wanted to save money, you could take carbonate. Then I came across research on calcium for the prevention of colon cancer. This study, published in 1999 in The New England Journal of Medicine, used calcium carbonate. 

It found "a significant, though moderate, reduction" in the risk of recurrent benign tumors in the colon with the use of calcium carbonate supplements. 
The tumors are thought to be linked to most colorectal cancers, and previous studies had been all over the lot on this issue. 

Researchers said that might be because of dietary discrepancies between patients, from amount of calories eaten, to use of vitamin and mineral supplements, and even to use of aspirin.

There is no indication why carbonate and not citrate was used in the study, but it might have been linked to cost. So score another point for carbonate. 

This week, in the aftermath of the angst over hormone replacement therapy, another study showed up in the mail. This one was published in April in the American Journal of Medicine, not to be confused with the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

The American Journal of Medicine is the San Francisco-based journal of the Association of Professors of Medicine, which publishes original clinical research. It published a report from New Zealand researchers that found calcium citrate could be beneficial to postmenopausal women for protection from heart disease. 

The supplement was found to reduce "bad" cholesterol levels and raise "good" cholesterol levels. The study used Citracal tablets and women took 1,000 mg a day, two 200 mg tablets before breakfast and three 200 mg tablets at night. 

This might restart the supplement wars. But for consumers, the good news is that calcium supplements appear to have nothing but an upside, no matter what form they come in. 

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