Defective absorption of calcium has been thought to exist in patients with achlorhydria. I compared absorption of calcium in its carbonate form with that in a pH-adjusted citrate form in a group of 11 fasting patients with achlorhydria and in 9 fasting normal subjects. Fractional calcium absorption was measured by a modified double-isotope procedure with 0.25 g of calcium used as the carrier. Mean calcium absorption (+/- S.D.) in the patients with achlorhydria was 0.452 +/- 0.125 for citrate and 0.042 +/- 0.021 for carbonate (P less than 0.0001). Fractional calcium absorption in the normal subjects was 0.243 +/- 0.049 for citrate and 0.225 +/- 0.108 for carbonate (not significant). Absorption of calcium from carbonate in patients with achlorhydria was significantly lower than in the normal subjects and was lower than absorption from citrate in either group; absorption from citrate in those with achlorhydria was significantly higher than in the normal subjects, as well as higher than absorption from carbonate in either group. Administration of calcium carbonate as part of a normal breakfast resulted in completely normal absorption in the achlorhydric subjects. These results indicate that calcium absorption from carbonate is impaired in achlorhydria under fasting conditions. Since achlorhydria is common in older persons, calcium carbonate may not be the ideal dietary supplement.