Innovations in Minerals

Accusations against calcium are unfounded, bone health experts say

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Calcium supplements Vitamin d Calcium

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock
Amid bad press in the latter half of last year, calcium supplement sales declined. But some bone health experts argue that calcium is still essential to bone health—with no cardiovascular risk whatsoever.

Calcium was under fire, again, at the latter half of last year. An interview published​ by the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, for example, said that the recommended calcium intake levels for women are unnecessarily high, and can be dangerous.

But much of the media frenzy was triggered by New Zealand scientist Ian Reid of the University of Auckland’s School of Medicine, whose studies contends that not only are calcium and vitamin D ineffective in treating or preventing osteoporosis​, they may also have adverse cardiovascular effects​.

Media outlets from CBC​ to NBC​ to the New Zealand Herald​ wrote about it, and Professor Reid won the premier Prime Minister’s Science Prize​ for his work.

Hitting the numbers

It seems like bad press took a toll on calcium supplements financially. According to data from Euromonitor, US consumers spent $914.3 million on calcium supplements, a 6% decrease from $973.7 million in 2014. The same data set is grave in its 2016 predictions, forecasting an additional 5% decrease to $864.9 million.

But many experts in bone health and calcium itself often dismiss this fear as bogus, mostly due to the non-clinical nature of the meta-analysis paper by Professor Reid.

“The evidence mostly has come from secondary analysis of trials that were designed for some other outcome,”​ Dr Connie Weaver, PhD, Department Head of Nutrition Science at Purdue University, told NutraIngredients-USA. “If they weren’t designed for the main question, than the outcome won’t measure the same way.”

“Every report that [concludes with calcium’s disadvantages] uses a different outcome measure. Some use myocardial infarctions and say there’s a link between calcium supplements and cardiovascular health, but another trial won’t find anything about myocardial infarction but find something about coronary events, or something else,” ​Dr Weaver adds, “The data is all across the board.”

Recommended populations

When it comes to the mechanism of calcium, based on animal studies Dr. Weaver has conducted, there is no reason for concern, but the differing schools of thought in academia is pushing consumers to think if they are risking cardiovascular health for osteoporosis, or vice versa?

“I wouldn’t say it poses a risk,”​ she said, adding that a cautious and prudent approach to calcium supplementation is taking three servings of dairy a day, with each cup offering around 300mg of calcium.

Image © iStockPhoto

Food and nutrition expert Dr Taylor Wallace​, who recently left his position as Senior Director of Science Policy and Government Relations at the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) to start his own health consulting practice, agrees that calcium is still an important nutrient for bone health.

“If we get children and adolescents to build the strongest, healthiest bones, then we could offset the osteoporosis or maybe even completely prevent it later in life, and one of the determinants was calcium intake,”​ he said about a new position paper​ he helped author with the NOF, published in the journal Osteoporosis International​. “You can definitely see in children that increased calcium consumption means larger, stronger bones.”

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1 comment

Missing Parts: Four Pillars for Proper Bone Health

Posted by Janeway,

While this study is worthwhile in so far as ferreting out the physiological confirmation that, on their own, Calcium and Vitamin D are not significantly prohibitive of bone fracture, this is primarily because there are two other equally important nutrients needed for proper bone development which are being ignored...and specifically, these are those of Magnesium and Vitamin K2.

As I've seen for myself, after long term attention to dietary sourced calcium and supplemented D3 and Mg, it was only after I added the fourth pillar of bone health, K2, that I was able to alleviate what had been akin to years of chronic back pain. To monitor, blood tests for Osteocalcin have been illuminating (initially grossly elevated which indicated deficiency) and eventually comforting (now consistently in range) to further confirm reasons why for this less than transparent improvement.

Then, as I saw with a 90 y/o Aunt who already suffered full-blown Osteoporosis, she was told by her MD that she needed a daily dose of 1200 mg Calcium and (only) 400 IU (RDA) Vitamin D3...which in and of itself, is far afield of achieving proper ratio between them and thus, the painful fractures continued.

When we know how growing children often need a minimum of supplemented 1000 IU D3/day, this is also a requirement for the elderly who are less exposed to the sun conversion that's achieved in skin.

So, as a result, I asked my dear (eagerly willing if could stop pain) Aunt to switch to a more comprehensively supportive and safer practice of using dietary Calcium, D3, Mg and K2...which soon enough (as they had for me) did improve her mobility strength and overall quality of life.

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