Too Much Calcium? Too Little? Either May Increase Death Rate

PJ Hamel Health Guide February 15, 2013
  • All of us with osteoporosis or osteopenia are very cognizant of the role calcium plays in bone health. A new Swedish study, reported this week in the British Medical Journal, shows a link between calcium intake and death rate in women. Are you getting enough calcium; too much, or just the right amount?

     

    What’s your recommended daily calcium intake?

    If you can’t answer this question right off the bat, you’re not paying enough attention to your diet.

    According to the National Institutes of Health, the daily recommendation for calcium for women over age 50 is 1200mg.

    Keep that number in mind; it could be a matter of life and death.


    Researchers have long seen a connection between the amount of calcium we consume each day and heart health. The new study cited above adds to that growing body of evidence. 

    In brief, the study indicates that consuming more than 1400mg of calcium a day is linked to a higher death rate in general; and an increased rate of death from heart disease and coronary artery disease. In addition, consuming too little calcium (less than 600mg daily) is linked to the same increased death rates as too much; and adds greater risk of stroke death.

    Daunting, eh?

    Another fact you should know: the risk increases for those who use calcium supplements, as opposed to those who get their calcium strictly through diet: dairy products, certain types of fish, leafy green vegetables, and fortified foods like cereal and orange juice.

    According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Karl Michaëlsson of Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden, “The [death rate] increase was moderate with a high dietary calcium intake without supplement use, but the combination of a high dietary calcium intake and calcium tablet use resulted in a more pronounced increase in mortality.” (Smith, 2013)

    It’s estimated greater than 60% of American women, middle-aged and older, take a daily calcium supplement. Are you one of them?

    Thankfully, all of this information is actionable. Unlike the increased osteoporosis risk from family history, a slight frame, or age, calcium intake is something you can change.

    First task: Get a handle on how much calcium you’re getting through your daily diet, including any supplements. You don’t need an exact number, but come up with a ballpark figure.

    Next, see if your diet puts you in that calcium “sweet spot:” 600mg-1400mg daily.

    If it does, great; mission accomplished. If it doesn’t, try to make some changes.

    If you think you’re getting more than 1400mg calcium a day, cut back. If a supplement (Viactiv, etc.) is part of that 1400mg, that’s your best place to cut; better to remove supplements from your diet than food.

    If you’re not getting enough calcium, try to increase your consumption by eating more calcium-rich foods. Check out 10 Easy Ways To Add Calcium To Your Diet, a great guide to calcium amounts in some of the common foods you might enjoy on a daily basis.


  • If you feel you simply can’t eat enough calcium-rich foods, consider a supplement. Purchase 500mg (or less) tablets or chews, rather than higher-dose supplements; you want to be able to fine-tune your consumption, and calcium is best absorbed in small doses, 500mg or less.


    Yes, this will take a bit of work up front. But once you establish your baseline and get into an eating routine, you’ll be able to stop worrying about your calcium intake – and its possible impact on not just your bones, but your life.

    Sources

    Dalessio, J. (2013, February 13). Too much calcium may double death risk in women. Retrieved from http://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/too-much-calcium-may-double-death-risk-in-women-9770.aspx

    Smith, M. (2013, February 13). Too much calcium may be harmful for women. Retrieved from http://www.medpagetoday.com/Cardiology/Strokes/37339