Growing up, calcium is like that one relative you dislike but have to put up with in order to avoid conflict. Surely you remember your mother going to any lengths to make you drink your milk! As an adult though, you’ve learned to make smart choices and ensure that you consume as much calcium as you can to ensure your bones and teeth become strong, have you not? Well, it may come as a shocker to you that blindly consuming all that extra calcium might actually lead to more harm than good! And not to mention the toll it takes on your pocket.
Here’s what science actually says about Calcium supplementation:
- May not really contribute to strong teeth and bones: We’ve all heard claims that supplementing with calcium can help in maintaining bone health and preventing osteoporosis. However, the evidence that calcium supplementation strengthens the bones and teeth, was never strong enough to begin with, and fresh research even shows that it may be questionable. A 2012 analysis of NHANES data discovered that supplementing calcium beyond the recommended dietary allowance provided no added benefit for hip or lumbar vertebral bone mineral density in older adults. In fact, a 2007 study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” found that calcium supplements don’t reduce fracture rates in older women.
- May be linked with some serious health risks: Calcium supplements are linked with some alarming health risks. A study involving 12,000 men published in “JAMA Internal Medicine” found that intakes of over 1,000 mg of supplemental calcium per day were associated with a 20% increase in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Researchers suspect that the large burst of calcium in the blood that occurs after supplementation may cause the calcification of arteries, whereas calcium obtained from food is absorbed at slower rates and in smaller quantities than from supplements. It is also suspected that extra calcium intake above one’s requirements is not absorbed by bones, but rather excreted in the urine, thus increasing the risk of calcium kidney stones, or circulated in the blood, where it might attach to atherosclerotic (causing hardening or narrowing) plaques in arteries or heart valves.
- Questionable quality of supplements: A Consumer Lab analysis even found that many of the calcium supplements they analyzed failed quality testing, containing lead contamination and mislabeled contents.
So what are the other options for maintaining bone health?
- Optimize calcium intake from diet: Consuming 600 mg per day from dietary sources (dairy products, sardines, salmon, dark leafy greens and bone broth) is enough to ensure optimum calcium intake.
- Do not disregard other bone-health nutrients: Healthy bone formation also depends on vitamin D and vitamin K2, both of which regulate calcium metabolism. Other minerals such as silica and magnesium also support bone health, so ensure adequate consumption of these nutrients.
- Strengthen your bones with activity: Bones are living tissue. Weight-bearing physical activity causes new bone tissue to form, and this makes bones stronger. Bone-strengthening activities are especially crucial for children and teens because the greatest gains in bone mass occur just before and during puberty.
Finally, a little note on hidden calcium. It is vital to remember that even though you may not be chewing those calcium tablets, you still might be ingesting supplemental calcium. Conventional processed foods are often fortified with supplemental forms of calcium, including orange juice, breakfast cereals, non-dairy milks, breads, instant oats, graham crackers, and other staples of the modern diet. Ensure that you are aware of the nutritional content of what you are putting on your plate, and stop looking for shortcuts to health and wellness. Remember, anything that is worth having doesn’t come easy.
Author Credits – Nida A. Aziz