Loading up on excess calcium isn’t doing much to prevent bone fractures, studies show

Calcium supplements

By pH health care professionals

Did your mom tell you to drink a glass of milk with every meal? Seems calcium has gotten a big push, touted as the best way to grow strong bones and prevent bone fractures. And while calcium is an important nutrient, if you’re loading up on supplements and calcium-rich foods for your bones as an adult, you may not be reaping as many benefits as you think.

So we dug a little further to learn more.

Here’s some of what we found:

  • Taking in excess calcium isn’t doing you any favors. Recent research published in The BMJ examined the findings of 59 studies involving the effects of calcium on bone strength. The results confirm that excess calcium intake either by food or supplements is not doing much to increase your bone strength.
  • There is only limited evidence for calcium preventing fractures. The majority of 44 studies show no bone-reinforcing benefits for adults drinking milk. There is weak evidence that calcium supplements help overall fracture risk. They do not help hip or lower arm fracture risks.
  • Milk avoidance in early childhood increase risk of fracture later in life. Just because excess milk doesn’t help with bone strength doesn’t mean total milk avoidance is the solution. Complete milk avoidance is counterproductive to future fracture risks.
  • Excess calcium won’t make your bones stronger, but make sure you get enough. Recommended daily calcium intake depends on age and can be found here. Generally, the adult population needs 1,000 mg of calcium daily, which can usually be achieved with a regular diet. The RDA is a good place to start, but keep in mind that your body is unique, so be proactive and test your nutrition levels. Certain prescription drugs may deplete your calcium, for example, or perhaps you have been taking a calcium supplement you don’t really need.

Overall, the research indicates that you may want to consider additional ways you can keep your bones strong and prevent fractures.

What else determines bone density?

99 percent of calcium is stored in bones, and most people reach their best bone density at age 30. There is a constant change of bone remodeling from breaking down old bone to building new bone. Over time, there is somewhat a slightly higher rate of breakdown than building.

So what are the factors?

  • Adequate bone mineral ingredients. Adequate calcium, magnesium and phosphorus are certainly needed for proper bone health. Medical conditions, foods and medications can influence loss of ingredients.
  • Age. When you are young, chances are good that your bones are healthy and strong. For people in their 70s, 80s and up, bones may become much more brittle due to a variety of factors.
  • Hormones. Female and male sex hormones are necessary to maintain good bone health. Sharply declining estrogen levels during and after menopause contribute to deteriorating bone health. Declining testosterone levels in males are also contributing factors to bone loss.
  •  Genetics and race. If you have a parent or sibling who has osteoporosis, or you are Caucasian or Asian, you may be at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
  • Medications. Some medication side effects, such as from diuretics, may cause loss of bone minerals. Steroid medications may lead to bone loss as well.
  • Kidney and gastrointestinal conditions. Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal conditions may interfere with mineral and nutrient absorption and, therefore, healthy bones. If these conditions cause more minerals to be spilled into the urine, bones may get weaker too.
  • Activity level. Some weight-bearing or resistance exercises are good for the bones. In reverse, sedentary habits will cause weaker bones. Excess exercise that causes amenorrhea (no menstruation) can interfere with calcium absorption due to decreased estrogen levels.
  • Vitamin D. Humans absorb generally only 30 percent of dietary calcium. Vitamin D helps to increase gastrointestinal absorption of calcium. Vitamin D is helpful to reduce fracture risks.
  • Dietary factors in early childhood. Milk avoidance, excess calories, sweetened drinks and lack of breast feeding increase future risk of fractures.

Overall, excess dietary calcium and supplements were not found to be useful for prevention of bone loss or fractures, despite their popularity. However, calcium deficiency and other unhealthy diet habits in early childhood should be avoided. Remember: Test, don’t guess!

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

 The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.