If you’re a woman over the age of 60, you probably take a calcium supplement every day. (Men are less likely to use calcium supplements than women, but a sizable percentage do.) After all, we’re told that calcium is essential for bone health and osteoporosis prevention.
While that’s certainly true, I’d like to offer three reasons to consider tossing those big, chalky pills into the trash.
Reason #1: They’re Probably Not Helping
Both men and women start to gradually lose bone density at around age 30. But for women, the loss of bone mass accelerates dramatically after menopause.
That’s why women are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis, and to be diagnosed at an earlier age than men.
For decades, scientists reasoned that boosting calcium intake with supplements would help slow age-related bone loss and prevent fractures. Unfortunately, we now have enough data to see that it hasn’t work out the way we hoped.
Reports recently published in the British Journal of Medicine reviewed scores of studies and found that while taking calcium supplements might slightly improve your bone density, they don’t reduce your risk of bone fractures.
Reason #2: Calcium Supplements Might Do Harm
While analyzing some of this data, researchers uncovered something unexpected: the use of calcium supplements was linked to an increase in heart attacks and strokes, particularly among older women. Other studies have suggested a link between high intakes of calcium and the risk of prostate disease.
These findings have launched a vigorous debate in the scientific community as to whether the benefits of calcium supplementation outweigh the risks.
While they hash that out, I’ve got a better idea.
Reason #3: Get Calcium from Foods
Getting your calcium from dietary sources (as opposed to supplements) has several advantages. Your body absorbs calcium better when it gets it in smaller doses throughout the day, rather than all at once.
In addition, calcium-rich foods, such as the ones I’ve listed below, provide other nutrients that help your body absorb and utilize this essential mineral.
The casein in dairy products improves the absorption of calcium in the intestines. Each serving provides 25% of your daily calcium requirement.
Calcium-rich leafy greens like Swiss chard, kale and collards also contain vitamin K, which works to clear calcium out of arteries and into bones. One cup gives you 10% of your daily calcium requirement.
Sardines or Canned Salmon (BPA-free cans)
When you eat sardines or canned salmon (both of which are good sources of calcium), the vitamin D in the fish helps direct that calcium into your bones. One can of sardines supplies 30% of your daily calcium requirement.
Calcium-Fortified Orange Juice
Calcium-fortified orange juice supplies vitamin C, which also helps with calcium supplementation. Each serving has 25% of your daily calcium requirement.
Tofu and Calcium-Fortified Soy Milk
Tofu and calcium-fortified soy milk also supply protein, which helps maintain strong bones as you age. Each serving contains 25 to 35% of your daily calcium requirement.
By incorporating these and other calcium-rich foods such as dried beans, figs and cheese into your diet on a regular basis, you can get all the calcium you need without relying on store-bought supplements.
Editor’s Note: Before stopping or starting any medications or supplements, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor. Consider printing out this article to take with you as a conversation starter.