Learn why calcium supplements may not be enough.

We all want to be strong and active as we age, and bone health plays a critical part in our ability to stay mobile.  Learn why calcium supplements may not be enough.


Chances are, you’ve been hearing about the benefits of calcium for your bone health since you were young. Women are especially prone to osteoporosis, so there’s a high chance that older women have a bottle of calcium supplements in their medicine cabinet.

However, taking calcium supplements may not always be beneficial. In fact, it may actually be harmful to some.

Bones are in constant motion; every day, your bone tissues are breaking down, remodeling, and rebuilding. For postmenopausal women, bone tissue breaks down much faster than it’s remodeled which leads to thinner, porous bones, also known as osteoporosis. Boosting your calcium intake helps to slow down that bone loss, but for many, the easier solution is to pop a calcium supplement rather than eating calcium-boosting foods. However, research studies have put into question the efficacy of calcium supplements, which may not necessarily protect against bone fractures in the elderly.

While calcium supplements may be an easy way to get that extra-needed calcium, here’s what you need to consider.

1. More is not always better.

Your body will only absorb small amounts of calcium at a time, so only take about 300-400 mg with or after your meals. Speaking of meals, calcium carbonate should be taken with a meal, but calcium citrate can be taken anytime, even on an empty stomach.

2. Other nutrients can help with absorption.

Calcium alone won’t do you much good. It also needs vitamin D to promote absorption into your bones, so take them together through food or take a supplement that contains both. However, it’s important to note that recent research has shown that the use of both supplements do not have a significant impact on protecting the elderly from fracture risk.

Vitamin K2 also plays an important role in regulating calcium content in your bones. Unlike the form of vitamin K found in leafy greens like kale and spinach, K2 is found in full-fat grass-fed dairy foods, egg yolks, and natto (Japanese fermented soybeans). Studies in postmenopausal women suggest that taking vitamin K2 supplements can help maintain bone density and reduce bone loss.

3. Too much calcium can be harmful.

Studies have shown that excess calcium from supplements (but not from food), can build up and harden, or calcify, in your arteries to put you at higher risk for a heart attack. Don’t take more than 1,500 mg of calcium from a supplement each day, especially if you’re at risk for cardiovascular disease unless your doctor has told you to do so.

So, what’s the bottom line for your best bone health?

Eat a well-balanced diet that includes lots of calcium-rich foods like leafy greens, legumes, dried apricots and figs, prunes, almonds, and dairy or fortified non-dairy foods. If you’re postmenopausal and unsure if you need a calcium supplement, check with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian. Finally, if you’re at risk for osteoporosis, take a vitamin K2 supplement (about 100-150 micrograms is probably enough).  Please be aware that vitamin K will interact with blood thinners like coumadin, so don’t take the supplement without first checking with your doctor.

Adapted from the original article.

Anne Danahy, MS, RD is a Scottsdale-AZ-based registered dietitian and nutrition communications consultant specializing in women’s health and healthy aging. Anne is passionate about teaching people how to make the science of nutrition more delicious on their plates. Visit her at Craving Something Healthy.