Calcium: To take or not to take, that is the question

Nutrition for Strong BonesBone is composed of at least a dozen minerals. The one most well-known and often recommended as a supplement is calcium, but studies are showing that this recommendation is far from a panacea to strengthen bone density, and if you focus exclusively on calcium supplementation you may actually increase your risk of osteoporosis. Overconsumption of supplemental calcium can create other mineral deficiencies and imbalances as well and can increase your risk of heart disease, kidney stones, gallstones, osteoarthritis, and hypothyroidism. In contrast to the risks supplementation can cause, high dietary calcium is linked to lower weight and blood pressure, which improves heart health and does not impose the risks supplemental calcium does.

Calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin K2, vitamin D, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C, manganese, boron, copper, silica and protein are all needed for bone health. In addition you want to eat a diet full of healthy fats (low fat diets are known to impair calcium absorption), do strength training exercises to create the cellular signaling that you need stronger bones, and get a full nights rest to really ensure bone repair and rebuilding is possible. Healthy fats are olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, and nut oils like walnut, sesame, peanut, macadamia nut, almond or pecan.

The conventional belief that arterial plaque is simply a buildup of cholesterol is outdated. We have since discovered that more than 90 percent of these fatty plaques are calcified. Cholesterol is soft and waxy and does not impair the elasticity of your arteries. On the other hand, calcium deposits are like concrete, “hardening” your arteries and impairing their ability to expand. It is calcium, not cholesterol, which induces arterial stiffness. This is why coronary artery calcium (CAC) is now being used as the most sensitive marker for the detection of coronary heart disease (CHD).

This is particularly important for postmenopausal women because hormone balance is necessary for proper calcium signaling. Estrogen and progesterone direct your body to deposit calcium into your bones. When hormones fall out of balance, this signaling causes calcium to slowly exit your bones and become deposited in your arteries instead. The risk for heart disease can jump substantially with the onset of menopause due to this hormonal link. Unfortunately, hormone replacement therapy does not seem to reduce this risk. We need nutrients and cell signaling to build strength.

Don’t just take calcium supplements if you are concerned about your health, eat foods that are rich in all of the nutrients previously listed. Again, high supplemental calcium creates risks that eating diet high in calcium and other vitamins and minerals does not impose. Food sources to give you the calcium your body needs are in dark leafy green vegetables, the pith of citrus fruits, legumes, carob, and wheatgrass. Magnesium can be found in dark leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts seeds and whole grains. Zinc is found in all meats, sesame and sunflower seeds, and wheat germ. Vitamin K2 is found in alfalfa, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cheddar cheese, dark leafy green vegetables, liver and seaweed. In fact most of the vitamins and minerals you need for strong bones can be found in three main food groups: dark leafy green vegetables, nuts and legumes.

If you are going to take a calcium supplement then aim for a separate calcium supplement than your multivitamin as calcium will compete for absorption with other needed minerals. Separating your calcium supplement from your magnesium supplement and iron supplement by at least two hours is necessary for optimal absorption. Also look for supplements that are made in the citrate malate form as opposed to calcium carbonate for increased bioavailability. For magnesium, take magnesium glycinate; a chelated form of magnesium that tends to provide the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability.  If you are taking vitamin D, make sure it’s D3 and make sure it also has K2 in it.  K2 is needed to mobilize calcium and it works synergistically with vitamin D to strengthen bones.   It’s important to maintain the proper balance between magnesium, calcium, vitamin K2, and vitamin D. Lack of balance between these nutrients is why calcium supplements have become associated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.


Heath Indicator Study Synopsis showing increased risk of calcium supplementation
Cardiovascular 2010 meta-analysis showed calcium supplements (without co-administered vitamin D) are associated with increased risk for heart attack (BMJ 2010)
Nanomechanical properties of calcification, fibrous tissue, and hematoma from atherosclerotic plaques. (J Biomed Mater Res A. 2009)
2008 study found calcium supplements are associated with a greater number of heart attacks in postmenopausal women (BMJ 2008)
Bone metabolism and vascular calcification. (Braz J Med Biol Res. 2007)
163 patients with type 2 diabetes were studied using electron beam tomography (EBT) findings showed that those with high prevalence of atherosclerosis had high frequency coronary calcification (Am Heart J. 2005)
2004 study showed that people with excess calcium in their coronary artery and who take statins have a 17-fold higher risk of heart attacks than do those with lower arterial calcium levels; researchers concluded that the two most definitive indicators of heart attack were LDL levels and calcium build-up. (Arterioscler Throm Vasc Biol 2004)
Osteoporosis and Bone Density 2010 article presented evidence for a total lack of support in the research for calcium supplements reducing fracture risk (Clin J Am Soc Nephrol 2010)
2007 study showed that calcium from dietary sources has more favorable effects on bone health than calcium from supplements in postmenopausal women (Am J Clin Nutr 2007)
2009 study of postmenopausal women using calcium supplements showed that, although calcium loss from bone was slowed, bone loss was still occurring (Osteoporosis Int. 2009)
2000 study showed that it’s exercise, not calcium, that builds strong bones in teenagers (Pediatrics 2000)
1997 study showed women with the highest consumption of calcium from dairy products had the highest risk of fractures, and those who took calcium supplements had the highest risk for kidney stones (Nurse’s Health Study, Ann Intern Med 1997)
Prostate Cancer 2001 study found men who consumed more than 600mg calcium a day from dairy products showed a 32 percent higher risk of prostate cancer than men consuming less than 150mg per day, and each additional increase of 500mg calcium from dairy was associated with another 16 percent increase in prostate cancer risk (Physicians’ Health Study, Amer J Clin Nutri 2001)