Raise your hand if there is some type of calcium supplement in your home right now. If you did, you’re definitely not alone, as chews, liquids, pills and powders containing the vital nutrient are collectively one of the most popular supplements in the U.S., after multi-vitamins. But you might want to throw your calcium supplement away after you read this.
Calcium supplements won’t give you stronger bones or protect you from osteoporosis — and, even worse, they may be harming your health. This dire news is the message of a new mega study just published in The British Medical Journal. Researchers looked at dozens of past studies into the effects of supplemental calcium on health and found some disturbing trends.
First, women who took the FDA-recommended amount of calcium or more (at least 1,000 mg a day) had no fewer fractures than women who didn’t, nor did the pill poppers have fewer incidences of osteoporosis or bone thinning as they aged. And, blowing away the old “drink your milk to make your bones stronger” adage, dairy intake was also not correlated with bone health. (Note to self: Stop saying that to my kids, stat.)
“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,” the researchers wrote. “Evidence that calcium supplements prevent fractures is weak and inconsistent.”
But the news gets worse. Not only are the supplements not helping you, but the extra calcium may be hurting you. The scientists reported that instead of going to bones and teeth, the mineral lodged in arteries, increasing the risk of hardened arteries and cardiovascular disease. Plus, it upped people’s risk of other health issues.
“Clinical trials of calcium supplements at doses of 1,000 mg/day [the recommended amount for women under 50] have reported adverse effects, including cardiovascular events, kidney stones, and hospital admissions for acute gastrointestinal symptoms,” the report said.
Yikes! So, does this mean we should all throw our supplements down the drain and never eat cheese again? In the case of the former, it’s not a bad idea, the researchers said, as the pills appear to be a waste of money at best. But when it comes to food, the evidence is more mixed. Even if eating dairy isn’t helping your bones, it also isn’t hurting them, and other studies have shown health benefits. For instance, eating yogurt, cheese, kefir and other types of fermented dairy can improve your mood and your immune system, thanks to hefty helpings of probiotics.
And when it comes to strengthening bones, experts say there are still things you can do. The No. 1 best thing you can do for bone health appears to be weight-bearing exercise like running, walking, weight-lifting and dancing.
More: How to balance your diet without dairy
So, instead of scaring you away from all things calcium, the real message of this study is the benefit of eating whole, unprocessed foods over taking a pill — especially as this news follows previous studies showing similar problems with supplementing vitamin E, vitamin D, and folic acid, to name a few. Nature packages vitamins together with fiber, water and other nutrients in a yummy produce package for a reason — and that’s the best way to get them.