Menopause

Menopause Corner
Menopause Corner

Wendy Hoffman blogs about menopause and women's health—particularly focusing on how diet and nutrition can positively affect a woman's life around the age of menopause.

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When It Comes To Calcium, More is Not Better

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The debate over calcium supplementation - the merits and risks - have heated up again leaving a lot of women confused. We’ve been told for years how essential this important nutrient is for strong bones, particularly for women after the onset of menopause, when rapid bone loss begins to occur.

But recently published studies are suggesting a link between calcium supplements and an increased risk for kidney stones and heart attacks. 

Should we take a daily dose of calcium or not? And if so, how much is safe?

These are questions I’ve been asking experts in the past few weeks and this is what I’ve learned.

The answer is absolutely yes!  Women 50 and older still require 1200 mg of Calcium every day, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the Institute of Medicine (IOM).  But if you’re taking a daily Calcium tablet, a multi-vitamin, a combined dose of Vitamin D with Calcium, and you’re eating a healthful diet that includes Calcium-rich foods, chances are you’re over dosing. As Dr. JoAnn Manson, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School explains in a video that you can view on YouTube, when it comes to calcium, “more is not better.”

“It seems that for bone health, calcium in moderation is probably best. We may want to recommend that women try to get as much of their calcium as possible from dietary sources,” said Dr. Manson. “Assuming that many women will get about 700 mg a day from dietary sources alone, many women may require no more than an additional 500-600 mg a day from calcium supplements.

What I have chosen to do, as a result of these more recent research findings, is to keep a mental note of the amount of dietary calcium I’m consuming, and take just enough supplemental calcium to reach the recommended daily dose of 1200 mg. 

For example, if I have a breakfast of Museli cereal or oatmeal (with dried fruit like figs or raisins) with yogurt and some OJ; a spinach salad that includes tofu or salmon for lunch; a snack of edamame (soybeans); and a dinner that includes dark leafy greens like broccoli or swiss chard, that probably adds up to nearly 1000 mg of Calcium. That means I’d only need 200-250 mg of supplemental Calcium to reach my goal.

It takes extra effort to keep track of what you’re eating, but it’s important and once you get familiar with the calcium benefits of the foods you like, it will become second nature.  Here are two resources that can help you in your calculations:

The USDA National Nutrient Database

http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/SR17/wtrank/sr17w301.pdf

Calcium Rich Foods Website - A database of over 7,000 foods that’s under development:

http://www.calciumrichfoods.org

Wendy Hoffman writes about women’s health at Menopausetheblog.com.

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About the Author

Wendy writes about women's health in midlife.

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