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More Calcium Doesn’t Mean Fewer Fractures in Seniors

More Calcium Doesn’t Mean Fewer Fractures in Seniors

Upping calcium intake has always been popular advice for stronger bones—but the connection between the two may be crumbling. Some scientists are saying that guidelines recommending seniors boost their daily calcium consumption may not help prevent bone loss as previously thought.

Currently, seniors are advised to get 1,000 to 1,200 mcg of calcium daily. But is it doing any good?

New Zealand researchers delved into past studies—over 100—to try to answer that question. One review looked at whether increased calcium from food or supplements protected against fractures, and the other tried to find out if more calcium really boosted bone density. The conclusion? Calcium didn't make that big of an impact.

Seeing if calcium counts
On one hand, boosting calcium intake did seem to increase in bone density—but only by 1 to 2 percent. The researchers say that’s not enough to make a difference in fracture risk. And their other analysis agreed that extra calcium wasn’t associated with fewer bone breaks. The findings were published in September 2015 in BMJ.

In fact, an excess of calcium from supplements could do more harm than good. In some cases, patients experience gastrointestinal problems—think constipation—and a small increase in risk for kidney stones and even heart attacks. And there’s some evidence that taking calcium without vitamin D could actually raise your chances of a hip fracture.

This news may come as a shock to both older patients and doctors who have been hearing—and prescribing—that the more calcium, the better. Especially patients who live with osteoporosis, a joint condition that leads to weaker and brittle bones with age.

But not everyone agrees with these findings. Supporters for added calcium claim that benefits do show up in studies where patients take calcium supplements for a longer time. Plus, they argue, supplements can help fill in gaps when people don’t get enough calcium from foods. 

Should I cut ties with calcium?
If you’re confused with all this back and forth about calcium, you’re not the only one. More research needs to be done to pin down just how much calcium people truly need for healthy bones. But don’t forget that you still need calcium for other functions in the body, like regulating blood pressure, blood clotting and nerve signals.

Your best plan: Talk to your doctor about how much calcium is right for you, and how you should get it. Make sure to get enough of other bone-building nutrients, too, including vitamin K and vitamin D. Physical activity is also a must—weight-bearing activities like walking, jogging and resistance training will help keep your bones strong.

Discover 10 tips for stronger bones.

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