Calcium Supplement Health Risks

The dietary supplement industry is alive and well in America.  According to the Natural Products Foundation, the industry's "contribution to the U.S. economy is more than three times annual consumer sales, or $61 billion dollars per year" - meaning that it sells about $20 billion dollars annually.

This can only mean that Americans are gorging on "nutritional supplements" in the hopes of making up for the essential vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients that are missing from their unhealthy diets of processed, junk and fast food.   Unfortunately, more and more scientific studies indicate that dietary supplements often cause more harm than good and can actually increase the very health risks they are advertised to aid in preventing.

Take, for example, calcium, an essential mineral needed in every cell of the body.  The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 1000 to 1300 mg of calcium per day for most children and adults - see the chart below for specifics.  The estimated average intake for American adults is about half of that - just 500 to 700 mg.   Hence, many Americans are considered to have a calcium deficiency.

This deficiency is undoubtedly due to poor eating patterns.  But, its just easier to take a pill than to change one's eating habits and get the essential mineral from food.  Right?  Perhaps it is easier, but is it really advisable or even safe?

Today an article entitled "Can Too Much Calcium Raise Your Risk of Death?  Could Be, Say the Latest Findings" appeared on Yahoo! Shine.  According to the article, a study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that, among women whose calcium intake was higher than 1400 mg a day had the highest rates of death and were twice as likely to die than women whose calcium intake was between 600 and 999 mg.  However, women whose calcium intake was less than 600 mg per day were also at an increased risk of death.

What is important about these and similar findings in other studies is that the risk of death increased with the intake of calcium from supplements or from a combination of supplements and food, but NOT from food alone.

So it would seem that taking calcium supplements is not the answer.  The answer is getting the the mineral from food, but not necessarily from dairy products which may be high in calcium but which are also high in saturated fat, dietary cholesterol and calories and low in or missing dietary fiber and many micronutrients.

Naturally occurring calcium can be found in many plants and plant-based foods including oatmeal, quinoa, tofu, almonds, sesame seeds, bok choy, broccoli, kale and other dark, leafy green vegetables.  These foods are a healthier source of calcium because (unlike dairy) most are low in fat, dietary cholesterol and calories but are high in dietary fiber, essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are required for both optimal health and healthy weight management.

Related:  Infographic:  Infographic: Foods That Contain Calcium
              Infographic:  Best Sources of Calcium
              Healthiest Sources of Calcium

The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Calcium (from the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health):
0–6 months*200 mg200 mg
7–12 months*260 mg260 mg
1–3 years700 mg700 mg
4–8 years1,000 mg1,000 mg
9–13 years1,300 mg1,300 mg
14–18 years1,300 mg1,300 mg1,300 mg1,300 mg
19–50 years1,000 mg1,000 mg1,000 mg1,000 mg
51–70 years1,000 mg1,200 mg
71+ years1,200 mg1,200 mg

* Adequate Intake (AI)

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