Stop taking those calcium supplements
That’s the advice from a group of New Zealand researchers to men and women over the age of 50.
The researchers examined data from two studies published this week in The BMJ. They concluded that extra calcium intake did not reduce the risk of bone fractures in older people.
Additional calcium may lead to a higher risk of gastrointestinal symptoms and even kidney stones, they found.
However, there are still instances where calcium supplements are necessary, according to what an expert at the Mayo Clinic told Healthline.
Studying the Studies
The National Institutes of Health advises older men and women to ingest 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day to increase bone density and help prevent fractures. Ideally, they can reach that amount with a reasonably healthy diet. But many older people take calcium supplements to be sure.
The New Zealand researchers wanted to find out if supplemental calcium indeed helped prevent fractures, so they sifted through previous research to test the theory.
The first study focused on two randomized control trials that looked at total calcium intake from both dietary and supplemental sources.
The researchers found that the additional calcium increased bone mineral density by only 1 to 2 percent, which was “unlikely to lead to a clinically meaningful reduction in risk of fracture.”
The second study contained 59 controlled trials, the majority of which focused on calcium supplements. Again, researchers using this data concluded that the extra calcium did not lower the risk of bone fractures.
The researchers said it’s time to revisit how much calcium we need outside of a normal balanced diet.
“The clinical trials show that prevention of fractures does not occur, suggesting that the assumption was wrong,” said Mark Bolland, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of medicine at the University of Auckland, in an email to Healthline.
The Problem with Supplements
Bolland said excess calcium intake has been known to cause gastrointestinal symptoms as well as constipation, which can lead people to stop taking the tablets.
He said some small clinical trials have shown calcium supplements can cause a small increase in kidney stones, heart attacks, and hospitalization for serious gastrointestinal problems.
He noted the higher risks for these ailments have been reported in clinical trials that examined the total intake of a person’s calcium through both diet and supplements. In some cases, people were taking between 1,700 and 2,100 milligrams of calcium a day.
Bolland said it’s not known if the side effects were caused by the supplements themselves or the extra ingestion of calcium in general.
Some People Still Need Extra Calcium
Dr. Robert A. Wermers, Mayo Clinic endocrinologist, said the median dietary calcium intake for people over the age of 50 in the United States is 589 to 646 milligrams a day.
In an email to Healthline, Wermers explained that when calcium is deficient, a person’s body will utilize calcium from the skeleton, something that can weaken bones.
He added that after age 50, calcium imbalance worsens and bone loss accelerates, increasing the risk of fractures.
Wermers said studies have shown taking calcium with low daily doses of vitamin D can increase bone density.
Calcium supplements can be useful, he said, if a person over the age of 50 is below the daily recommended minimum, especially if the individual takes vitamin D along with them.
He said he follows the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations of 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day for women over the age of 50, 1,000 milligrams a day for men 51 to 70 years old, and 1,200 milligrams for everyone over the age of 70.
Wermers did say taking high doses of calcium does increase potential side effects, especially the risk of kidney stones. Patients with chronic kidney disease should be careful while taking in extra calcium because there are “cardiovascular concerns with this population,” he added.