Lead Content in Calcium 

Millions of Americans take calcium supplements daily to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and attain the other health benefits of adequate daily calcium intake. Concerns have occasionally been raised in the media about the purity of calcium supplements, specifically their lead content.  Although trace amounts of lead can be found in calcium supplements, the amount is very small. Supplements are made from refined calcium, and in fact contain less lead than many dairy and vegetable food sources. Additionally, calcium blocks absorption of lead by body. Thus, ensuring adequate daily calcium intake is also one of the best ways to reduce absorption of lead.

It is important to remember that lead is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in the soil, water and the air. It is present in fruit, vegetables and dairy products and is ubiquitous in the environment. The lead content of foods as well as nutritional supplements like calcium is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  The lead tolerance level for calcium carbonate, the most common form of calcium used in supplements, is three parts per million (3 ppm).

Because most of the lead is excreted from the body, a daily supplement of 1,000 mg of elemental calcium would mean absorption of only about 0.25 mcg of lead is actually absorbed by the body.  This is a minuscule amount compared to the Food and Drug Administration’s estimate of acceptable intake for the average person which is 750.0 mcg.

Calcium’s role in reducing the risk of osteoporosis, providing potential benefits for the cardiovascular system, and maintaining overall health is well established. Calcium also protects the body from lead absorption. Calcium and lead are absorbed at the same site in the intestine, and this site prefers calcium. Thus, the ingested lead passes though the gastrointestinal tract and is excreted. As more calcium is consumed, less lead is able to get into the bloodstream.

To allay any concerns about purity and quality, consumers should obtain their calcium supplements, and their food products, from a reliable producer or manufacturer. Most calcium supplements from reputable manufacturers are made with refined, high-quality "pharmaceutical grade" ingredients with trace levels of lead far below the 3 ppm federal standard.  

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