The People's Perspective on Medicine

Do You Need to Take Calcium Supplements?

Older people who take calcium supplements may be getting more calcium than they need.

For decades, women and older adults were advised to take calcium supplements to help maintain bone strength. More recently, however, concerns have been raised about the possibility that calcium supplements may increase the risk for kidney stones and cardiovascular disease. A recent randomized controlled trial published in the journal Gut showed that people taking calcium supplements were more prone to colon polyps. People who take calcium supplements may also be troubled with constipation.

Older People Take Calcium Supplements More:

Now data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show that many older people take calcium supplements (Bone, June, 2018). Quite a few are taking doses higher than experts recommend. The analysis covered data collected between 1999 and 2014.

The researchers wanted to know whether some of these individuals were exceeding the recommended dose. Only a few were taking more than the upper limit of 2,000 mg of calcium daily from pills. However, many people were swallowing at least 1,000 mg of calcium supplements a day. That is considered the Estimated Average Requirement. The EAR should take into account calcium from foods and beverages as well. Women and older people were most likely to take at least the EAR, perhaps because their doctors have suggested supplements.

Calcium from the Diet?

People who take calcium supplements are often getting a decent amount of calcium from their diets as well. The investigators note that calcium from the diet is not linked to adverse reactions and may even reduce the risk of fractures, high blood pressure and kidney stones.

Dietary sources of calcium include dairy products such as milk, cheese, kefir and yogurt, especially Greek-style yogurt. Soy products such as tofu and green leafy vegetables such as turnip greens, Chinese cabbage and kale are also rich in calcium. Canned sardines and salmon (with bones) are an excellent nondairy source. Traditional corn tortillas are a strong source of calcium in Mexican diets because the corn to make masa is treated with calcium before it is ground.

People who rarely get eat such food sources of calcium may need to take calcium supplements. Keeping a food diary to determine how much calcium one is consuming makes sense. That will allow a person to calculate how much more calcium she should get from supplements.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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For Helen Williams

Have any studies been done as to the calcium in Tums . I take at least four 500 generic tums a day due to not being on PPO buy have Gerd. Tums keeps it in control Usually take two at bedtime. Would like to see some info on this source of calcium.

I had severe upper thigh leg cramps for years and the doctors seemed to have no cure for them. I found that taking a calcium magnesium pill every 3 or 3 weeks completely stopped the cramping . If I forget to take a pill and get a leg cramp the cramp was relieved within minutes by chewing a Ca-Mg pill!
I have told many friends about this and all have had their cramps relieved.

I hope this information is spread to everyone with servere leg cramping because it really does work and the OTC pills are very inexpensive.


If you’re lactose intolerant, then you have a much more limited source of dietary calcium!

Please comment on taking plant-sourced whole-food calcium (by “New Chapter”), not limestone?????

Dr Thomas Levy is really against calcium supplements. He even says no calcium ascorbate.

Check out his reasons and decide for yourself whether to use it or not.

I did get some calcium ascorbate capsules and will use them. Pretty low doses.

My endocrinologist recommended calcium supplements because I did not want to take a drug for osteoporosis in my hip. I exercise regularly and do eat and drink dairy products. And I follow a healthy diet. Now I am wondering if I should stop the supplements as I have had colon polyps.

Endless articles about calcium supplementation and none mention the role of Vitamin K2 in the metabolism of calcium. We just go round and round in circles. Please see this article:

Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health

It’s a bit scientific but there is certainly enough there that we can understand to make the case for K2 (natto being the best source)

We shied away from the supplement. King Oscar outside for me and Kale, Broccoli and arugula for us; lower in Oxalic acid, you know.

I give up. Sooner or later whatever was recommended is discovered to have no effect or some awful side effect. Wasn’t it recently discovered that D is not helpful in strengthening bones? There’s something about C as well. And, yet, you’ve had some interesting guest doctors on your show who recommend all kinds of vitamins and supplements. My husband and I have even bought a couple of their books. Everything sounds so convincing, but here we are again.

Osteoporosis is a big problem for many older adults. I was just diagnosed, despite eating well and exercising regularly my whole life, and have had to turn to a calcium supplement to help turn my bone loss around.

I am 64. A long time ago my family dr, who has a very high IQ, more or less said that the supplements were “snake oil,” that not much of them were absorbed vs eating food. Every 3 months I get all kinds of blood work done. I took calcium supplements, and the results show that the calcium build-up has led me to kidney stones, gallstones,and effects on the heart. The filler in vitamins comes mostly from China, India,etc. There is no telling what they use for filler. Personally, I stay away from such, as I have seen more side effects than benefits.

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