- Calcium supplements may increase negative health risks in certain people.
- A sufficient amount of calcium is especially important for people over 50.
- The best way to meet your daily calcium needs is through your diet.
Many of us prefer to get our daily dose of calcium from what we eat and drink—things like dairy, leafy greens, almonds, and salmon. But according to the Mayo Clinic, many Americans don’t actually get enough calcium in their normal diets.
Our bodies need calcium for more than building and maintaining strong bones; your heart, muscles, and nerves need calcium in order to function properly. There have even been studies that suggest calcium—along with vitamin D—could possibly protect against cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. However, the full health benefits of calcium have yet to be confirmed.
Getting enough calcium is especially important for adults over 50, as low calcium levels can lead to osteoporosis. Regarding women in particular, bone loss increases dramatically during menopause due to depleting levels of estrogen.
It’s no wonder calcium multivitamins and stand-alone supplements are popular. If you don’t get enough calcium, you’re at a higher risk for health problems related to weak bones. But if you do take a calcium supplement, there are other health risks to be aware of.
The Potential Risks Of Calcium Supplements
We should start by saying that much more research is required on this topic. Still, it’s best to approach taking calcium supplements with caution because there are potentially serious risks involved. If you’re concerned about not getting enough calcium in your diet, the ideal course of action is to confer with your doctor.
1. Cardiovascular Disease
In a February 2021 study published in Nutrients, researchers at the National Cancer Center in Korea found that calcium supplements were “significantly associated with the increased risk of [cardiovascular disease] and [coronary heart disease] by 15%, specifically in postmenopausal women.”
That’s not the first time research has linked calcium supplements to cardiovascular disease. A July 2010 study published in The BMJ found that more test subjects who took calcium supplements had heart attacks or strokes or even died than those who took the placebo.
“Calcium supplements (without co-administered vitamin D) are associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction,” the study read. “As calcium supplements are widely used, these modest increases in risk of cardiovascular disease might translate into a large burden of disease in the population. A reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in the management of osteoporosis is warranted.”
The correlation here is plausible, but causation hasn’t been proven.
A small 2016 study published in Neurology set out to determine whether calcium supplements could be associated with the development of dementia in women over a five-year period.
The study observed 700 dementia-free women aged 70 to 92 years and concluded that calcium supplements “may increase the risk of developing dementia in elderly women with cerebrovascular disease.” Cerebrovascular disease refers to a group of conditions that affect blood flow and the blood vessels in the brain.
Researchers noted that because the study was so small and observational, their findings needed to be confirmed with further research.
3. Side Effects And Drug Interactions
If you take or plan to take a calcium supplement, the good news is there are little to no side effects. The worst appear to be gas, constipation, and bloating.
There is a possibility, though, that your calcium supplement could interact with any prescription medications you take. The Mayo Clinic indicates that you should consult your doctor if you take any of the following: “blood pressure medications, synthetic thyroid hormones, bisphosphonates, antibiotics, and calcium channel blockers.”
How Much Daily Calcium Do You Actually Need?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended daily amount of calcium for adult women under 50 is 1,000 mg. For women over 50, that number increases to 1,200 mg. The best sources of dietary calcium come from dairy products.
Dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli and kale are also great sources of calcium, as are fish with edible soft bones (sardines and canned salmon), and calcium-fortified cereals, fruit juices, and soy products.
To absorb calcium, your body needs sufficient amounts of vitamin D. You can get that from sun exposure and vitamin D-fortified foods, like egg yolks and canned salmon (with bones).
In addition to a daily diet filled with the proper amount of calcium and vitamin D, exercise can go a long way toward keeping your bones healthy. The risk of osteoporosis is higher in those who aren’t physically active. Weight-bearing daily activities like walking, jogging, and climbing stairs help to build strong bones and slow bone loss.