To stay healthy, our body needs a variety of nutrients on a daily basis and calcium is one of them. This mineral plays an important role in our overall health and wellbeing, but its positive impact on bones is the most pronounced benefit. With the aim to improve bone health and risk of osteoporosis, people tend to take calcium supplements to supply their body with much-needed mineral. The question is; do we really need calcium supplements? What’s the answer? Keep reading to find out!
Why Do We Need Calcium?
Calcium is most commonly linked to the formation and metabolism of bone. In fact, about 99% of total calcium content in the body is found in bones and teeth where it provides hard tissue with its strength. In the circulatory system, calcium is crucial for mediating vascular contraction and vasodilation, nerve transmission, muscle function, intracellular signaling, and hormonal secretion. This perfectly depicts the importance of this mineral, it participates in a multitude of functions. Now you know your mom wasn’t wrong when she kept saying milk and calcium are important for strong bones.
How Much Calcium Do We Need?
Given that calcium is necessary for our health it is crucial to get the recommended daily amount of the mineral. So, how much do you need on a daily basis? The National Institutes of Health listed recommended daily intakes introduced by the Food and Nutrition Board; you can see them in the table below.
Sources of Calcium
Unlike some nutrients that are difficult to obtain through diet, it is entirely possible to get the recommended daily value of calcium through nutrition. Great sources of calcium mineral include:
- Bok choy
- Broccoli, collards
- Fortified soy products
- Green snap beans
- Kale, spinach
- Raw milk
- Yogurt or kefir
People who don’t get enough calcium through diet opt to take supplements instead. Besides compensating for the lack of the mineral in one’s diet, people also take calcium supplements to prevent age-related diseases associated with insufficient levels of calcium in the body. Supplements are also taken by people who follow a vegan diet or have a high-protein high-sodium diet which excretes more calcium. But, do we need them?
Benefits of Calcium Supplements Consumption
Calcium supplements are associated with some health benefits, particularly when it comes to preventing bone loss in postmenopausal women. For example, a review of studies in BoneKEy Reports found that postmenopausal women who received calcium supplements experienced reduced bone loss by 1-2%. Scientists concluded the review explains that supplementation with this mineral leads to a small reduction in bone loss.
Scientists from Brazil discovered that overweight or obese individuals have a lower level of calcium in the body while a team of researchers from China found that participants who received calcium and Vitamin D supplement lost more body fat on a calorie-restricted diet than their counterparts who didn’t take the supplement.
Furthermore, one study discovered that both obtaining calcium from diet and taking supplements lead to lower risk of colon cancer. A growing body of evidence suggests that consumption of calcium supplements improves metabolic markers, particularly when taken in combination with Vitamin D. For instance, one research of pregnant women showed that those who took calcium supplements improved metabolic markers such as inflammation and blood pressure.
Negative Effects of Calcium Supplements
Despite various benefits, calcium supplements have some negative characteristics too. A systematic review of 44 cohort studies published in the BMJ showed that evidence about effects of calcium supplements on risk of fractures is weak and inconsistent. But, that’s not the biggest issue surrounding these products.
Intake of calcium supplements is associated with increased risk of heart disease, but this question is open for a debate as scientists can’t agree on this link. The biggest problem regarding consumption of supplements is that people rarely consult their doctors since these products are available over the counter. If dosages aren’t clearly stated, they just “wing it” and are at risk of taking excessive amounts. While some studies confirmed the link between high calcium intake and prostate cancer, others proved otherwise.
One study of 36,282 postmenopausal women found that the risk of renal calculi (kidney stones) increased with calcium and Vitamin D supplementation. That’s not all, excessive amounts of calcium in the blood lead to hypercalcemia indicated by nausea, stomach pain, irritability, and depression.
While our body needs calcium to function properly, evidence about benefits (and harms) of taking supplements is inconclusive. Some studies confirm their beneficial effects, others outline their risks. Taking too much calcium is associated with hypercalcemia, calcium buildup in soft tissues, trouble absorbing iron and zinc, and many other consequences. It is easy to take more than recommended if you don’t pay attention to the dosage when taking supplements or if you refuse to consult a doctor. Calcium supplements are fine in small doses, but you should strive to get the daily value of the mineral from the diet. If you’re considering buying the supplement, discuss it with your doctor first.