Sure – calcium is a good thing. We all know it helps build healthy bones and teeth and that women should take it to help prevent osteoporosis. The trouble is, sometimes there really is too much of a good thing. Calcium can be helpful, but a new study conducted at Upsalla University in Sweden and published in the British Medical Journal, shows that too much can be harmful.
This study looked at 60,000 women’s medical records in women born between the years 1914 to 1948. These women had completed surveys about their total calcium intake from dietary sources such as dairy products and green leafy vegetables as well as any supplements they were taking. The study also tracked the number of fractures as well as the incidence of osteoporosis in that time period in these 60,000 women. The results were surprising.
Essentially it was found that having low calcium intake, below 750 mg daily, puts women at risk for fractures and osteoporosis. Osteoporosis risk decreased with any of the calcium intakes above 750 mg. Hip fracture risk was also high below 750 mg of calcium per day and decreased for women taking between 750 and 996 mg calcium daily. Hip fracture risk started to rise again in women taking more than 996 mg calcium.
This means that extremely low calcium intake (less than 750 mg) is associated with osteoporosis and hip fractures. 882 – 996 mg calcium per day protects against both osteoporosis and hip fractures. Over-supplementing caclium (more than 996 mg daily) may actually increase the risk of hip fractures. The US RDA is currently set at between 1000 and 1300 mg for women depending on their age range, which could possibly be too high. Click here for the government fact sheet on calcium.
If you have been diagnosed with osteopenia (low bone density that is not severe enough to be osteoporosis) or if you are concerned about osteoporosis then there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Do a calcium journal – Add up all of your sources of calcium per day to see what you’re actually getting. Don’t forget to include your multivitamin, supplements that you are taking, any dairy products you eat, green leafy vegetables, calcium fortified foods such as orange juice and also antacids. Keep track for at least a week to get an accurate picture. For many people diet and a good multi will provide everything they need! Your body uses nutrients from your diet most easily so focus on dietary sources and let go of supplements if you can.
- Adjust your intake – Try to make sure that your daily calcium intake is between 880mg and 1000 mg (ish). This study isn’t conclusive enough to say exactly what is the right number, but it certainly suggests that many of us are taking too much.
- Weight bearing exercise – If you can only do one thing for your bone health, this should be it. Weight bearing exercise gives your body the natural signals to build strong, healthy, resilient bones and resist fractures and breaks.
- Vitamin D - Many people are vitamin D deficient and vitamin D helps your body to utilize calcium most effectively. If bone health is a concern for you then have your doctor test your vitamin D levels and supplement if necessary.
- Tai chi or Qi Gong - Exercises like these that help to improve and maintain your balance can help you to not fall, which won’t do anything for osteoporosis but can significantly reduce your risk of fractures. Balance tends to decline as you age, so it’s best to do something active to help yourself in the long run.
Fractures, especially hip fractures can be painful and debilitating so protecting your bones before they happen is always the best strategy.