Calcium - Hazards and Toxicity

Hazards and Toxicity

Compared with other metals, the calcium ion and most calcium compounds have low toxicity. This is not surprising given the very high natural abundance of calcium compounds in the environment and in organisms. Calcium poses few serious environmental problems, with kidney stones the most common side-effect in clinical studies. Acute calcium poisoning is rare, and difficult to achieve unless calcium compounds are administered intravenously. For example, the oral median lethal dose (LD50) for rats for calcium carbonate and calcium chloride are 6.45 and 1.4 g/kg, respectively.

Calcium metal is hazardous because of its sometimes-violent reactions with water and acids. Calcium metal is found in some drain cleaners, where it functions to generate heat and calcium hydroxide that saponifies the fats and liquefies the proteins (e.g., hair) that block drains. When swallowed calcium metal has the same effect on the mouth, esophagus and stomach, and can be fatal.

Excessive consumption of calcium carbonate antacids/dietary supplements (such as Tums) over a period of weeks or months can cause milk-alkali syndrome, with symptoms ranging from hypercalcemia to potentially fatal renal failure. What constitutes “excessive” consumption is not well known and, it is presumed, varies a great deal from person to person. Persons consuming more than 10 grams/day of CaCO3 (=4 g Ca) are at risk of developing milk-alkali syndrome, but the condition has been reported in at least one person consuming only 2.5 grams/day of CaCO3 (=1 g Ca), an amount usually considered moderate and safe.

Oral calcium supplements diminish the absorption of thyroxine when taken within four to six hours of each other. Thus, people taking both calcium and thyroxine run the risk of inadequate thyroid hormone replacement and thence hypothyroidism if they take them simultaneously or near-simultaneously.

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