You thought your calcium supplement was a good idea… think again! You don’t need your calcium supplement! You might be worried about osteoporosis or were just left tricked by the whole, “milk does a body good campaign.” Either way, your supplement is likely not doing you any good, so you are wasting money on supplements at best. At worst, your calcium supplement is causing your body harm. Either way … stop taking your calcium supplement that you prescribed yourself.
Calcium is the most overused supplement when you consider the health benefit. Or lack thereof, health benefit. If you are an average person who is eating a varied, healthy diet you don’t need a calcium supplement. 43% of American adults are taking a supplement that includes calcium. (1) As the population ages the percentage taking calcium supplements goes up along with their risk for adverse health effects.
We have all heard milk does a body good. Why does it do a body good? Well, they tell you it’s because of the calcium. If calcium is good then lots of calcium is even better, right? Wrong! Think again! There are so many reasons to rethink this overused supplement and avoid the harms of calcium.
Reasons to Rethink Your Calcium Supplement
1 – Bummer Bone Issues
Calcium supplements don’t make it into the bones and aren’t fully passed in the urine which means that it is stored in the body. (1) If your supplements aren’t absorbed into your bones they aren’t helping your bone density and they are probably causing damage somewhere else. Unfortunately, more often than not, it’s going where the inflammation is. Inflammation is the root cause of so many of the illnesses Americans are faced with and inflammation likes to use calcium to support the inflammatory process.
If the calcium isn’t being absorbed by the bones and it doesn’t make it out of the body it has to go somewhere. Ideally it would go into the bone to help with bone density and reduce fractures. Instead it builds up on the outside like a piece of used gum no one wants. Getting hard and building up as more gum is added. All that unused calcium can actually build up causing extra bone growth. This extra bone growth can be pretty painful when calcium deposits lead to osteoarthritis and bone spurs. How bummed are you when you find out all of your preventative bone health actually leads to bone issues?
2 – Hurts your Heart
As we see a rise in calcium supplementation there is also a higher risk of adverse cardiovascular events in those who are using calcium supplements. (2) Take note that we are talking about the supplements not the dietary calcium. Dietary calcium has been shown to reduce your risks of heart disease. But here again people hear calcium is good and they think, “I need to take a bunch of it.”
With supplements, you spike the amount of calcium in your blood and like we talked about earlier it has to go somewhere which can muck up your arteries and heart. It can cause a blood clot or inflammation puts it to use as part of the inflammatory process calcifying the vascular wall. Basically, it hardens your arteries which is not good for cardiovascular health. A simple test called a coronary calcium score will tell you if you have calcium building up in your arteries.
3 – Who Needs Kidney Stones?
I have the answer. Nobody needs kidney stones. When your body is trying to get rid of that excess calcium you are putting in it will go through your kidneys before making it into your toilet. Sometimes it doesn’t make it to the toilet! Calcium can make up 85% of a kidney stone. If you have extra calcium floating in your body that needs to exit and it goes through the kidneys, it might build up into some extra kidney stones for you. Studies have shown taking regular calcium supplements can increase your risk of kidney stones by 17%. (3)
4 – Can Interfere with Absorption of other Minerals
The thing about calcium, like many other nutrients, is that the food you eat it in has other nutrients and minerals that help with absorption. Taking supplements means you aren’t likely getting the right balance of those nutrients and minerals while having too much calcium in supplement form can hamper the absorption of minerals like magnesium, iron and zinc. Taking calcium with food can reduce your absorption of iron which can make it harder to reach your dietary needs. (4) How many of you have worried about anemia?
In my experience with patients, there are way more patients whose test scores indicate they need more magnesium than those who need more calcium. Calcium and magnesium bind to the same site on the cell. If you are taking lots of calcium that can potentially grab onto your cell before the magnesium that you need. Guess which one gets depleted with stress? Magnesium. If you are already depleted in magnesium and supplementing with calcium, then you are making that divide larger.
5 – Dairy Industry Milked This Calcium Thing
The dairy industry started this whole calcium rigamarole. But remember they didn’t have your best nutrition in mind. They were trying to sell milk products and it worked! Everybody thinks milk does a body good. Which is silly… Milk was made for baby cows not for humans. The milk needed to grow a 150 lb baby cow into a 2000 lb animal is vastly different nutritionally, and molecularly, then what a human needs.
The molecular size of the calcium in milk is not easily absorbed by humans. So, you have been drinking all this milk and then you thought you had to take supplements all because of lies pushed by the dairy industry. The baby cow grows up and starts drinking water but the baby human drinks the cow’s milk and takes supplements.
6 – It’s Not Supporting Bone Density
You didn’t know any better. You were told to take calcium supplements because the calcium is supposed to go in your bones and give you better bone density. Those calcium supplements aren’t doing what you thought they were. If your body doesn’t excrete the extra calcium they get deposited where they don’t belong. Studies have shown that calcium supplements aren’t absorbed by the bones. So… calcium supplements don’t support bone density.
If calcium supplements don’t support bone density, what good are they? Exactly what I’ve been asking! Your body will absorb what it needs from food if you are eating a varied diet that includes some leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and beans.
4 Ways to Support Healthy Bones
1 – Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps improve the absorption of calcium and is very important for your bones. While calcium is not shown to reduce or prevent hip fractures, Vitamin D supplementation has! Your body can get some Vitamin D from some food sources but primarily makes it when your skin is exposed to the sun. In the modern-day world of sun screen and limited outdoor time, our bodies don’t get enough Vitamin D so its beneficial to take a high-quality Vitamin D supplement.
2 – Varied Diet Full of Leafy Greens
All the calcium your body needs can be gotten in a healthy, varied diet. Dairy is very inflammatory, so we recommend eating seeds, nuts, leafy greens, almonds, beans, and lentils. When you get your nutrients from a whole food versus a supplement you are getting the food with all the nutrients that are better for your body and make it more absorbable for optimal use. It also avoids the spike in calcium in your blood that causes it to build up where it’s not supposed to be.
3 – Bone Broth
Bone broth is something you could be supplementing that is going to be more beneficial for the bones, the ligaments, and the cartilage while not causing the adverse effects of a calcium supplement. This food has amino acids and collagen which support healthy bone health. Drinking bone broth can reduce bone loss and your chances of fractures. Again, this is a whole food that was once common in our diet, but we don’t get enough of. You can make your own or check out a favorite around the clinic.
The number one way you can improve your bone health is through weight bearing exercise. If you have osteoporosis you should be exercising. It’s not a supplementation issue. You need to stress your bones to build your bones so make sure you are getting good exercise. So, this can include weightlifting but can also include walking, cross fit, running, or jumping on a trampoline. Want to up your walking game? Walk with weights! You will do more for your body than what any supplement can do.
Ready to Think Again and Stop Taking Your Calcium Supplement?
Just because a little of something is good doesn’t make a lot of it better. We all saw all the celebrities sporting milk mustaches and they made us think we need to drink lots of milk or take a supplement. Well, the dairy is inflammatory, and the supplements aren’t working. There are many reasons to not take the calcium supplement while there are no reasons to take the calcium supplement. Want to take that calcium supplement? Think again.
Written by Dr. Greg Abbott