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Questions about calcium supplements for older adults are in the news. Recent studies published in the British Medical Journal found that extra dietary calcium intake was not associated with fracture reduction and increasing dietary calcium intake does not prevents fractures.
However, says Mayo Clinic endocrinologist Dr. Robert Wermers, Americans aren't getting enough calcium in their diet. The median dietary intake in the U.S. for women age 50 or older is 589-649 mg per day and 728-777 per day for men. He says despite the new findings, he recommends patients follow the Institute of Medicine’s guidelines of 1200 mg of calcium in women 51 years of age and older, 1000 mg daily for men 51-70 years old and 1200 mg for those above 70 years of age.
Dr. Wermers says, "The ability to maintain calcium balance worsens and bone loss accelerates after 50 years of age. Your risk of fracture also increases with older age. In fact, several studies have shown that calcium combined with low daily doses of vitamin D reduces fracture risk and increases bone density." Calcium supplements, he says, should be considered only if you do not get the recommended daily amount of calcium through diet.
The body doesn't produce calcium on its own and we need vitamin D to help absorb it. So, how do we get calcium in our diet? Sources include:
Vitamin D can be found in many foods including fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil.
Taking calcium supplements doesn't come without risks. They may increase the risk of kidney stones compared to dietary calcium which reduces kidney stone risk. Dr. Wermers says, "Patients with chronic kidney disease should carefully consider the use of calcium supplements with their provider before starting as there are some cardiovascular concerns in this population." He adds, "Calcium and vitamin D alone in patients at high fracture risk is not as beneficial as using them combined with osteoporosis medications."
Talk with your health care provider to find out if calcium supplements are right for you.