Calcium Supplements Unlikely to Prevent Fractures or Boost Bone Health, Says Marla Ahlgrimm

Marla AhlgrimmGeneral guidelines advise men and women over age 50 to consume at least 1000 mg of calcium per day. Many people, fearful that diet does not provide adequate levels of the nutrient, utilize over-the-counter supplements to ensure these recommendations are met. However, according to Marla Ahlgrimm, a new study has found there is no evidence that suggests calcium can prevent bone density loss or fractures. Scientists from New Zealand analyzed two separate randomized controlled trials, neither of which provided any evidence that calcium supplements were beneficial. Here, Ahlgrimm answers general questions about this nutrient and notes the potential risks of supplemental calcium.

Q: What benefits does calcium provide?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Calcium derived from natural sources, including dairy products, leafy green vegetables, calcium-fortified foods, and edible fish bones, is utilized by the body to build and maintain strong bones. Calcium is also vital to cardiovascular health.

Q: How do low calcium levels affect the body?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Children without access to a balanced diet that includes ample calcium-providing foods and beverages may not reach their full adult potential height. In adulthood, decreased calcium levels are considered one of the major risk factors of osteoporosis.

Q: What are the risks of calcium supplements?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Calcium supplements may actually be linked to increased risk of heart disease. Some studies suggest that calcium may also be linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer, though further clinical studies are needed. Studies are ongoing as to whether the addition of magnesium to a calcium supplement modifies the risk of heart disease.

Q: Can a person have too much calcium?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Hypercalcemia has few initial symptoms. However, it may cause nausea, vomiting, muscle or joint pain, abdominal pain, and excessive thirst. As calcium levels rise, delirium, confusion, coma, and death may occur. Hypercalcemia may be triggered by a sudden excessive intake of calcium or by its gradual buildup over time. This could be due to supplement overuse or the body’s failure to perform its appropriate metabolic functions.

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