A Bone to Pick with Calcium Supplements

By John M. Weigand, M.D.
Director of Geriatric Services
Central Ohio Geriatrics

Calcium is the most prevalent mineral found in the human body with 99% of calcium being found in bones or teeth. This important substance provides vital mineralization of bones, which improves their strength. Vitamin D is also important, because this fat-soluble vitamin promotes calcium absorption in the stomach and intestines and helps regulate calcium concentrations in the body. So what is the best way to get an adequate amount of calcium in this day and age of osteoporosis?

The first important step is to promote good nutritional practices in our children and young adults. Fortified milk and orange juice, which are good sources of calcium, are frequently underappreciated by our youth and adults who prefer to reach for carbonated soft drinks or high-energy drinks. This tendency creates a double whammy because not only are we missing out on the dietary calcium in milk, yogurt or orange juice, but the high caffeine content and carbonation of soft drinks causes a loss of calcium from the body. Dietary calcium is better absorbed by the human body than calcium supplements found in vitamins and tablets. The recommended dietary allowance, or RDA,  for older adults is 1,200 mg daily. The typical calcium content from common dietary sources include:

Yogurt,  8 oz.                          400 mg per serving

Fortified orange juice, 8 oz.    375 mg per serving

Cheddar cheese, 1 ½ oz.         300 mg per serving

Milk, 8 oz.                               270-300 mg per serving

Cottage cheese (1%), 1 cup    130 mg per serving

Ice cream, ½ cup                       80 mg per serving

An alternative way to promote calcium intake is through the use of supplements. While there are half-dozen or so forms of calcium available at the drug store, the most recommended in our practice are either calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. Not only are these commonly found, generally affordable and well tolerated, they are a suitable second-best choice to the calcium we get from our food. Calcium citrate is the best absorbed form of supplements and does not require the usual stomach acid to help in the absorption of the calcium. So why is that important? Some of the most popular prescription and over-the-counter medications in the United States are reflux-, ulcer- or acid-reducing medications. These medications work by increasing the pH of the stomach (decreasing the amount of stomach acid that is produced) which helps a stomach ulcer or reflux, but cuts down on the absorption of many of the calcium supplements, except calcium citrate. If you are not on an acid-reducing medication (such as Zantac, Prilosec, Nexium, Pepcid, among others), then calcium carbonate is probable just fine for you. It is much cheaper and easily found. Caution: Do not use dolomite or bone meal as a calcium source because these supplements maybe contaminated with lead, which can cause unique and dangerous side effects.

So even if you don’t “got milk” like the popular advertising campaign encourages, make sure you “got calcium” and take enough in your diet or in a supplement to get you to 1200 mg-1500 mg daily in divided doses. That last point is important: If you take all of your calcium at once, you are not absorbing all the calcium and you’ll be missing out on the benefits to your bones and teeth while “flushing” part of your investment down the drain.

Immunization Update Series: Fortify Your Defense Against Disease

By John M. Weigand, M.D.
Director of Geriatric Services
Central Ohio Geriatrics


August is National Immunization Update Month, and therefore an appropriate time for John Weigand, M.D., COG-MED director of geriatric services, to begin a four-part series on immunization updates for adults, particularly updates for those 65 and older. This month, Dr. Weigand writes about the Td and Tdap vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. Subsequent immunization articles are:

September: Pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine

October: Influenza vaccine

November: Shingles (Zoster) vaccine.

Between July and December 2012, the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, will be reviewed and summarized for adults, especially those older than 65. Each year the ACIP reviews the recommended schedule of adult immunizations to ensure it reflects the most current knowledge for licensed vaccines. 

Tetanus, Diphtheria and Acellular Pertussis


Tetanus (lockjaw) was first described by Hippocrates as “a timeless human misery,” but it was not until 1884 that Carle and Rattone discovered the cause of tetanus by injecting pus from a fatal human case into a rabbit. The first tetanus toxoid vaccine was developed in 1924 and was widely used in World War II. Tetanus is the only preventable disease that is infectious but not contagious. It is contracted through an open area of the skin that is contaminated by a bacteria present in the soil. Tetanus, while not particularly common in the United States, is a dreadful disease that when contracted can often lead to death through progressive paralysis and muscular spasms. In the early 1950s, there were approximately 600 cases of tetanus annually. Since 2000, there have not been more than 80 cases identified each year, due in great part to the effectiveness of the vaccination schedule against this infection. 

Diphtheria was discovered by French physician Pierre Bretonneau. He took its name from the Greek word diphthera, meaning “leather,” which described the leathery membrane that formed on the tonsils and throat of patients. Diphtheria has been one of the most deadly diseases, accounting for frequent outbreaks in the New England colonies between 1735 and 1740 and killing as many as 80 percent of the children younger than 10. Known as the “Strangling Angel of Children,” statistics from the 1920s show a prevalence of diphtheria with 100,000-200,000 cases per year in the United States and an estimated 13,000-15,000 deaths. The discovery of sulfa antibiotics and effective vaccines have practically eradicated the disease in the United States (fewer than five cases per year). 

Pertussis (whooping cough) is an infection of the respiratory system characterized by severe, unrelenting coughing spells punctuated by a “whooping” sound as the person attempts to take a breath. Before vaccines, pertussis accounted for a staggering number of deaths throughout the world. In the United States between 1926 and 1930, 36,000 deaths were attributed to the disease. By 1974, the initiation of a vaccination program reduced the reported disease by 157 fold, but the incidence of new pertussis infections have been rising in the past 20 years because of decreased vaccine use. In 2004, there were 25,827 documented cases, leading to a renewed urgency to vaccinate children and adults. 

Adults born prior to 1940 may never have received the recommended 3-dose vaccination schedule now used in infants to prevent tetanus and diphtheria. The ACIP has identified that grandparents or the elderly who care for infants younger than 12 months are at risk of contracting pertussis and has recommended the use of a combined acellular pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria vaccine, or Tdap


The two commonly used vaccines are tetanus toxoid/diphtheria, or Td, vaccine andtetanus/diphtheria/acellular pertussis, or Tdap, vaccine. 

• Adults younger than 65 should receive the Td vaccine every 10 years and replace the Tdap vaccine once before age 65.  

• Any adult (including those older than 65) who may not have completed the recommended 3-dose primary vaccine series should do so, with Tdap being the first vaccine given in the series, followed by the Td vaccine given 2 and 8 months later.  A regular 10-year immunization schedule is then recommended following the 3-dose series.

Tdap is specifically recommended for 

• Preganant women at more than 20 weeks’ gestation

• Adults, regardless of age, who are close contacts of infants younger than 12 months, including parents, grandparents or child-care providers

• Health-care personnel

Next month: Pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine


Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule – United States, 2012. JAMA, July 4, 2012, Vol 308, No. 1. Pg 22-27.

Historical Perspective in Pertussis and Use of Vaccines to Prevent It, Cherry JD, Microbe Magazine, March 2007. http://forms.asm.org/microbe/index.asp?bid=48816

History of Diphtheria, http://www.medindia.net/patients/patientinfo/diphtheria.htm

Tetanus, Ang J, http://www.chmkids.org/upload/docs/imed/TETANUS.pdf