The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Calcium Supplements Cause Kidney Stones

Q. I am lactose intolerant and have to take calcium supplements since I don’t drink milk. I have heard that these can cause kidney stones. Someone told me I should take Tums with calcium instead of calcium carbonate. Will this make a difference?

A. An article in the Annals of Internal Medicine (April 1, 1997, p. 497) showed that foods high in calcium help protect against kidney stones while calcium supplements increase the risk of stones by about 20 percent. A more recent review of the medical literature (Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Oct. 27, 2008) concluded that “most of the studies show no increase in stone risk with high calcium intake (from either diet or supplements).”

Regardless of the risk, taking your supplement with meals may protect you from any purported problem. You can also lower your likelihood of a kidney stone by making sure your diet is rich in potassium and magnesium from fruits and green leafy vegetables. Drink lots of liquids for added protection, but stay away from grapefruit juice which may boost the danger.

The active ingredient in Tums is calcium carbonate, which is also found in many calcium supplements. We don’t think there is a substantial difference.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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IN 2010 I was having stomach problems and every night just before bed I took a TUMS. A month or two later I had multiple kidney stones. Was that the cause? I’ve always thought so. Haven’t taken a TUMS since, and I’ve had no kidney stones.

My father had a kidney stone. I wanna know if he can take Calcium-Magnesium with Vitamin D Complex, Gluten Free Vegetarian Capsules?? Because his doctor said he is VERY low on calcium.
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Epidemiological research shows that a high-calcium diet (though it is sometimes discouraged) is safer for a person prone to kidney stones than calcium supplements. We do think the Vitamin D is a good idea, since it will allow him to absorb more of the calcium that is in his diet (and he might want to make sure he is eating enough high-calcium foods).

I was told by a friend that vitamins should not be taken on an empty stomach. They should only be taken after you have eaten something such as breakfast. When taken on an empty stomach they are not absorbed in the system. Could you tell me if this is true.

My Mother-in-law came very close to death because of calcium toxicity, a result of all day and everyday eating Tums. (We do not know how many a day). We took her to Emergency at Durham Regional Hospital. Her limbs became stiff and she vomited blood. We were told it was rare and that they might write about it for a medical journal. This is a warning for those with elderly relatives with indigestion problems. She thought they were harmless.

My daughter, in her 40’s, was low on Vitamin D. She was prescribed large doses of Vitamin D injections. Shortly afterward, she had a kidney stone. I assume Vitamin D increased her calcium in the urine. When I was a medical intern in 1953,I was told “don’t drink a lot of milk because it could cause the risk of kidney stones.”

A long time ago, I asked my doctor about taking Tums instead of calcium supplements and he said if Tums were meant to be used in place of supplements, you can be sure that the industry would advertise it as such. Tums were meant for relieving indigestion and that is all they should be taken for; calcium supplements were not meant to relieve indigestion and vice versa.

I’ve read that calcium is best absorbed in an acidic environment, so taking a Tums that neutralizes extra acid doesn’t seem like a reliable way to get our required amount of calcium. Instead of the calcium carbonate in Tums, I read that calcium citrate is the most absorbable form because it doesn’t require extra stomach acid to be absorbed.

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