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Calcium: Too much of a good thing could be bad

Everyone knows the importance of calcium to women’s health. In fact the National Institutes of Health recommend that women over 50 consume 1,200 mg daily. This age group is one of the largest at risk for calcium deficiency, because the decrease in estrogen production at this age is directly correlated to a decrease in calcium absorption in the bones. But, it now seems that the U.S recommendations for calcium intake may be too high.

Woman Gardening

This new concern is derived from a Swedish study published in the British Medical Journal which looked at data from more than 60,000 women born between 1914 and 1948. Researchers monitored the participants’ calcium intake over 19 years and compared their levels of consumption with their risk of fracture.

The data showed that women who consumed less than 750 mg each day increased their risk of having a fracture by 18 percent as compared to those who consumed 900 mg each day, which is the amount recommended by Swedish officials. Interestingly though, the women in the survey who took up to 1,140 mg daily saw little additional benefit to lowering their risk of fracture. In fact, it seemed that the excessive amounts of minerals from the high levels of calcium may shut down bone construction, and therefore could be correlated with a higher incidence of fracture.

Julie Switzer, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at Regions Hospital, is also a member of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons’ Women Health Issue Advisory Board. In response to this study, Switzer was interviewed by Time magazine about whether women should still worry about taking calcium pills following these findings.

“Since the findings also suggest that too little calcium can increase fracture risks, women should continue to take calcium pills if they do not get enough from their diets,” Switzer said. In addition, Women require varying levels of calcium based on their ethnic background, socioeconomic status and lifestyle, for example whether they smoke or are physically active.

The U.S. has not changed its dietary guidelines based upon this study, but health officials and Switzer agree that this study may open the door to the U.S. modifying its recommendations for calcium intake.