The risks of calcium supplements have been studied

Calcium and strong bones go together like, well, milk mustaches and famous people. We’ve understood that since the days when celebrities sported milk mustaches on magazine covers. In many cases, calcium supplements are a certain-fire way to meet our goals. For healthy bones, calcium is essential-but before you reach for calcium supplements, consider these factors.

Calcium is important for your health

It’s bone health that rules the calcium world. After all, calcium supports skeletal health, the National Association for Osteoporosis says. But your body actually needs the nutrient for a number of equally important functions. In addition to your bones, your heart, muscles, hormones, and nerves all require calcium to function properly.

In addition to maintaining your body’s status quo, the mineral offers many other benefits. It not only protects against osteoporosis, which weakens and brittles bones, but calcium is also associated with lower blood pressure, a lower risk of diabetes, and a lower risk of colon cancer.

Despite this, your body doesn’t produce calcium on its own, so if you don’t eat enough calcium, your body will take it from your bones, weakening them and putting you at risk for fractures. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that women under 50 consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. If you are 51 or older, you should aim for 1,200 milligrams a day. The recommended daily dose for men is 1,000 milligrams; men 71 and over should take 1,200 milligrams.

Supplements: should you take them

Calcium supplements might seem like an easy way to make sure you’re getting enough of this bone-loving mineral, but they are not a panacea. Many people do not get enough calcium each day, so supplementation is most beneficial for those being treated for osteoporosis or at high risk of calcium deficiency, such as postmenopausal women and those who avoid dairy. Your calcium chew may not be your safest option if you’re not in one of those categories, or if you’re getting enough calcium through your diet.

When? Calcium isn’t better when it’s more. In the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) of the National Institute of Health, a high intake of calcium drastically reduces the ability of the body to absorb it. The extra calcium is destroyed, but what happens to it? The Cleveland Clinic explains that it can occur in soft tissues (aka calcification of soft tissues) and promote a number of health issues, including kidney stones, constipation, and heart issues. Calcium also has upper limits, so aside from daily recommendations, there are also upper limits. ODS recommends that adults between the ages of 19 and 50 limit their consumption to 2,500 milligrams per day, while older adults should limit their consumption to 2,000 milligrams per day.

Additionally, a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2016 suggests calcium supplements may increase the risk of calcium deposits in the coronary arteries. There is no relationship between calcium supplements and coronary artery disease if calcium is consumed through food alone, as the study found calcium supplements are only associated with it, not caused it.

Studies have also linked calcium supplements to an increased risk for polyps in the colon and kidney stones. It is important to speak with your doctor if you think you need a supplemental calcium boost, even though more research is needed to fully understand the risks.

A food source of calcium

Calcium can be obtained without supplements. According to Candace O’Neill, RD, a dietician with the Cleveland Clinic’s Executive Health Program in Florida, “most adults can obtain their calcium requirements from food and fortified foods,” depending on their eating habits and food preferences.

Milk is often immediately associated with calcium, and with good reason. O’Neill says dairy products, like milk, yogurt, and cheese, are common calcium-rich foods. However, she recommends fortified nut milk, calcium-enriched tofu, beans, canned sardines, salmon, almonds, and chia seeds if you are avoiding dairy. The trick also works with dark leafy greens, but not always, she says. “Some greens, like spinach, contain calcium, but oxalates prevent it from being absorbed by the body.” Kale, broccoli, and bok choy are standouts, however.

It takes two steps to get enough calcium. In order to absorb calcium, you must eat foods that contain calcium. According to O’Neill, adequate levels of Vitamin D are essential for calcium absorption. The same goes for Vitamin D. Vitamin D is found in only a few foods, notes O’Neill. The good news is that you can always increase your sun exposure if you are not getting enough vitamin D.

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