After grade school milk consumption for many Americans tapers off considerably and along with it often goes our calcium consumption. It is well established that adequate calcium and vitamin D are necessary to maintain long-term bone health and avoid osteoporosis.
For years physicians have pushed calcium supplements on patients, especially smaller-boned women as a means to maintain their bone density. Then they encouraged the use of calcium supplements with vitamin D when it became apparent that taking calcium alone wasn’t adequate to the task of maintaining a strong and healthy skeleton.
However, there now is research indicating that more isn’t always better
There may be a range of calcium intake that is safe and beneficial, with intakes beyond this range harmful. The studies reporting these data are observational, meaning they describe the medical outcomes of people who have taken various amounts of calcium over the years. But the studies haven’t directly tested the question of calcium dose safety by giving different doses of calcium to matched groups of participants and studying the outcome over time.
The most recent study appeared in the British Medical Journal in February 2013. Participants were women from a mammography cohort who were asked about their calcium consumption, using a food frequency questionnaire, at baseline and seven-to-ten years later. The 61, 433 women were followed for a period of 19 years. During that time, 6894 participants died of cardiovascular disease or stroke. The researchers found that the women taking over 1400mg of calcium per day had a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease. Participants whose calcium consumption remained within suggested bounds, between 600mg and 1000mg per day, did not appear to have a greater vulnerability to cardiac disease.
Participants who received the preponderance of their calcium from supplements were at higher risk than those who received their intake from dietary sources.
The results of this study don’t mean that you should stop drinking milk or eating almonds or even that you should throw out all of your calcium supplements. Calcium and vitamin D are still the best defense we have against osteoporosis, which can have serious consequences as we age.
Osteoporosis is one of the factors that make falls in the elderly so dangerous. A broken bone at age twenty certainly isn’t fun, but it isn’t the tragedy it can be at age eighty when that bone comes from the hip. Broken bones later in life can lead to long hospital stays, loss of independence and even early death.
The study results, may, however, cause you to think about why you are taking calcium- is it for prevention or as a treatment for osteoporosis? How much calcium you are getting? have you been under the assumption that if 500mg is good 1000 mg must be better? If there are dietary sources of calcium such as beans or kale or canned salmon that you could substitute for supplements?
Perhaps it is time to have a conversation with your health care provider to determine what the best dose of calcium is for you.