The dairy industry has long promoted their products by continuously drilling the importance of calcium in the heads of consumers.
Even now, osteoporosis foundations (1) and national health services (2) still recommend 1000 mg of calcium a day, which is difficult to reach through diet alone (3). Hence, the reason why so many people rely on supplements.
However, taking calcium supplements may not be such a good idea.
What Are Calcium Supplements Made Of?
Calcium supplements are typically made of purified oyster shell, bone meal, or dolomite. Low quality supplements can contain high levels of lead or other toxic metals (2).
A study from the British Medical Journal found that people over 50 didn’t get stronger bones either by taking supplements or by eating calcium-enriched foods (synthetically added calcium). It was discovered that the extra calcium didn’t go to strengthen bones but instead could build up in the arteries or in the kidneys (4). (source)
“Dietary calcium intake is not associated with risk of fracture, and there is no clinical trial evidence that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources prevents fractures,” wrote Dr. Ian Reid of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, the study’s lead researcher.
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“Evidence that calcium supplements prevent fractures is weak and inconsistent.”
“The weight of evidence against such mass medication of older people is now compelling, and it is surely time to reconsider these controversial recommendations,” Dr. Karl Michaelsson of Uppsala University in Sweden wrote in a BJM commentary (5).
More Milk…More Fractures?
Michaelsson had previously discovered that people who drank the most milk had more bone fractures and higher a higher mortality rate than non milk drinkers. (6).
“Clinical trials of calcium supplements at doses of 1,000 mg/day have reported adverse effects, including cardiovascular events, kidney stones, and hospital admissions for acute gastrointestinal symptoms,” Reid’s team wrote (4).
Research published in the BMJ in 2011 found that taking daily calcium supplements of 1g plus vitamin D increased the risk of heart attacks by 20 per cent (7).
Too much calcium can also prevent the body from absorbing essential minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus (2).
Additional Nutrients Needed For Stronger Bones
Although calcium is an important part of overall health, your bones require phosphorous, vitamin D, magnesium, potassium and vitamin k to stay strong.
The NIH suggest that you also strengthen your bones by practicing weight-bearing exercises such as walking, running, playing tennis, lifting weights and dancing (8).
Just Eat Natural Sources of Calcium
While too much calcium can be bad for you, the same can be said about not getting enough of it.
Calcium in combination with other nutrients help to maintain bone structure and function (9). It’s also required for vascular contraction and vasodilation, muscle function, nerve transmission, intracellular signaling and hormonal secretion.
The key here is balance.
Instead of taking calcium supplements, which is without a doubt too much, try eating foods naturally rich in calcium as opposed to eating calcium-enriched foods.
Not only will doing this prevent overdosing on calcium, but many of these foods come with additional minerals needed for calcium synthesis. Here’s a list of 5 foods to add to your diet:
1. Blackstrap Molasses
Molasses, an incredible nutrient-dense sweetener, is high in vitamin B6, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium and potassium (10). Use it in baking or to sweeten your oatmeal and smoothies.
2. Collard Greens
Collard greens are high in calcium and manganese, folate, vitamin K and vitamin A (11). They are inexpensive to buy easy to grow and can be used in anything from soups, to side dishes and pasta sauce.
Spinach is full of nutrients such as vitamin A, folate, calcium,iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium (12). Steam your spinach and serve with garlic or eat it raw as a powerful salad.
While most nuts contain calcium, almonds are one of the highest sources of the mineral. They also contain magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, potassium and vitamin E (13). Eat them raw as a snack, roast them in the oven to give crunch to your salad or grind them up to add to your smoothie.
5. Canned Sardines
When eaten in full –including their bones- sardines supply calcium, phosphorous, selenium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 (14).
Bake them for a crunchy finish or poach them in olive oil to keep the meat flaky and moist.