The calcium controversy

The calcium controversy

New study calls into question the role of calcium in bone health.

For years we have been told to make sure we are getting enough calcium from dietary sources or supplements in order to protect our bones from osteoporosis and decrease our fracture risk.  

But the latest research may have you thinking twice about increasing calcium intake. 

This new study finds that people over 50 don’t get stronger bones either by taking higher doses of calcium supplements or from eating extra servings of calcium-rich foods such as dairy products.

The findings, in the British Medical Journal’s online publication, reported that the extra calcium doesn't go to strengthen bones but instead, in some individuals, can build up in the arteries, causing heart disease, or in the kidneys, causing kidney stones. Many people can also experience constipation from taking too much calcium.

Dr. Ian Reid and colleagues at the University of Auckland in New Zealand did a meta-analysis—they gathered all the high-quality studies they could find around the world and compared their results. Most of the studies showed people over 50 get no benefit at all from taking either calcium supplements or from eating calcium in food. 

“Dietary calcium intake is not associated with risk of fracture, and there is no clinical trial evidence that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources prevents fractures,” they wrote. “The evidence that calcium supplements prevent fractures is weak and inconsistent."

The National Institutes of Health recommend between 1000-1200 mg/day—women over 50 are advised to get 1200 mg of calcium a day, and women under 50 are advised to get 1000 mg a day.  Men are advised to get 1000 mg a day, although men over 70 are supposed to get 1200 mg.  It’s been found that most of us don’t get enough calcium from food or supplements, so recommending more calcium supplementation would make sense. However, the studies do not support this.

“The weight of evidence against such a mass medication of older people is now compelling, and it is surely time to reconsider these controversial recommendations,” Dr. Karl Michaelsson of Uppsala University in Sweden, who studies osteoporosis, wrote.

Michaelsson has led research that found people who drank the most milk had more bone fractures than people who drank less.

So how do you actually protect your bones as you age? Move your body!  Weight bearing exercise such as walking, running, playing tennis, lifting weights, yoga and pilates can strengthen bones.

Try to increase your calcium intake through food rather than taking supplements and not just from dairy sources. Leafy greens, almonds and seaweeds are all great sources. If supplementing due to osteoporosis or low dietary intake, stick to 500-700 mg/day and choose the most absorbable forms such as calcium citrate, malate or MHCH.

Reduce inflammation. Cutting down on alcohol, excess caffeine, excess refined sugars and quitting smoking can also help, as all of the above can weaken bones.

Supplement with Vitamin D and other bone builders such as Vitamin K2, magnesium, collagen, boron, Vitamin B12 and manganese.

With a little foresight, and by not relying so heavily on supplementation, you can age with healthy bones.

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