Calcium is a mineral that your body needs to function properly. It’s found in all of your bones, teeth, and muscles. It helps your heartbeat and keeps blood pressure normal. It’s one of the most important nutrients in the body.
But what if you’re not getting enough calcium? Not consuming enough calcium can lead to weakness, bone loss, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. For this reason, many people may think that calcium supplements are beneficial for their health. The truth, however, is that calcium supplements may actually do more harm than good.
Calcium Supplements: Beneficial or Dangerous?
You might think taking a calcium supplement is the best way to get enough calcium into your diet—but you’d be wrong! Taking too much calcium can actually hurt your health.
The functions of calcium in the body are many—including acting as a messenger between cells, keeping bones strong and helping with muscle contraction and nerve impulses. Calcium also helps regulate blood pressure levels by helping blood vessels relax when they’re constricted (like when we’re exercising). It also plays a role in keeping our immune systems healthy by keeping them from attacking themselves or other cells inappropriately (for example: when we have asthma). Finally, it plays a role in maintaining proper acid/base balance within our blood stream by aiding in the production of bicarbonate ions which act as buffers against acids/base imbalances such as those that can occur when we have acid reflux or other digestive issues. All of this goes along with, of course, building strong bones and teeth. (1)
Calcium Doesn’t Work Alone
In order for the body to absorb calcium properly, it needs other nutrients in the diet to work with it. Vitamin D, for example, helps the body use calcium much more efficiently than if vitamin D is not present. Magnesium is also important for proper absorption of calcium as well as many other functions within our bodies. The body also needs protein in order to make use of the calcium that is present, as well as vitamin K2.
Too Much Calcium Is Not Good
Considering how critical this mineral is for so many of our bodies’ functions, one might think that taking a calcium supplement would be important. After all, if it’s so important for our health, more equals better, right?
Not in this case, it isn’t. Too much calcium can have an adverse affect on health. The body’s natural mechanisms for regulating the amount of calcium in our bodies simply can’t keep up with the rate at which we’re able to absorb it from dietary sources. Excessive calcium intake can lead to problems like kidney stones and calcification of soft tissue. It also affects how easily vitamin D is absorbed by our bodies, which means that taking a calcium supplement may actually decrease your body’s ability to use this important nutrient effectively! (2)
On top of that, too much calcium can contribute to heart disease. This is because excess calcium will be deposited in soft tissues, including blood vessels, leading to calcification and hardening of arteries. This can lead to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
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Is There Ever A Reason To Take A Calcium Supplement?
For most healthy people, there really is no reason to take a calcium supplement. People with certain health conditions, however, might benefit from a calcium supplement. These conditions include (3):
- rickets and osteomalacia
- chronic kidney disease and other kidney disorders
- certain types of cancer that spread to bone (metastases)
- Paget’s disease of the bone
- Vegan diet
- Consume large amounts of protein or sodium, which cause your body to secrete more calcium
In these cases, it will be up to the patient and their health care provider as to whether or not a calcium supplement, and at what dose, is necessary.
Dietary Sources of Calcium
The best way to ensure that you’re getting enough calcium is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. This means including plenty of calcium-rich foods in your daily meal plan, such as (4):
- low-fat dairy products (milk, cheese and yogurt)
- dark leafy greens (spinach, kale and collards)
- fortified juices (orange juice and soy milk)
Include a variety of these foods in your diet each day and you will have no problems reaching your calcium requirements without a supplement. If you are vegan and vegetarian, look for dairy substitutes that have also been fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
The Bottom Line
For most of the population, calcium supplements are unnecessary to reach our daily calcium needs. In fact, they may even be detrimental to your health. If you are concerned about whether you are getting enough calcium, talk to your health care provider. They can help you to determine the best, and safest, course of action for your needs.
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- “Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age.” Bones
- “The good, the bad, and the ugly of calcium supplementation: a review of calcium intake on human health.” NCBI. Kelvin Li, et al. November 2018.
- “Calcium and calcium supplements: Achieving the right balance.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic Staff.
- “Calcium Supplements: Should You Take Them?” Hopkins Medicine