The Truth About Calcium Supplements

Most believe that calcium supplements only benefit adults (except, maybe, those with kidney stones), protecting them from declining bone strength. Some may believe these supplements could help those with osteoporosis (weak bones) specifically, but recent research places calcium supplements under scrutiny.

Recently, Annals of Internal Medicine reported that, according to the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), postmenopausal women do not appear to experience bone-strengthening benefits of calcium plus vitamin D supplements that was originally hoped. Calcium recommendations suggest most daily calcium intake should come from dietary forms, such as dairy or spinach, rather than from calcium supplements. Vitamin D, required for the body’s absorption and processing of calcium, is too low for many people since the production of vitamin D in the skin by sun exposure is variable for individuals. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine recommended daily intake of 1,200 mg of calcium daily and 600-800 IU of vitamin D daily. Those amounts are attainable with diet alone, but reaching those values in your daily diet requires some effort, especially if you are not digesting and absorbing the calcium and vitamin D well.

Even more curious, at least two reports, the most recent from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), indicate as much as a 20% increased risk of heart disease deaths in men who took 1,000 mg or more of calcium supplements daily (1). The theory: high calcium intake without sufficient magnesium results in artery plaque formation. The results are less compelling in women, who tend to take calcium supplements more frequently. So, the key may be to balance the intake of calcium and magnesium to some degree. Magnesium glycinate and magnesium malate forms seem to be well absorbed. The Mayo Clinic website recommends about 300 mg of magnesium daily through a combination of diet and supplements (2). Too much magnesium in the form of magnesium supplements can cause side effects such as diarrhea, so the bulk of magnesium should be found in the foods like fish, yogurt, milk, spinach, beans, and almonds. Many calcium supplements now also contain magnesium and vitamin D (and some contain zinc, also) for proper absorption and a balance of the ingredients. There should be more scientific analysis of these results in the near future.

(1) http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/high-calcium-intake-from-supplements-linked-to-heart-disease-in-men-201302065861

(2) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/drug-information/DR602371

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