Calcium does not play any protective role against bone fractures, either if integrated through the diet or through any of the common supplements.
This conclusion can be drawn thanks to a thorough scientific revision published in the British Medical Journal in September 2015, which analysed with a different, critical eye numerous clinical and observational studies performed on more than 700.000 people (Bolland MJ et al, BMJ. 2015 Sep 29;351: h4580. Doi: 10.1136 /bmj.h4580).
The group of New Zealand authors re-examined and analysed 50 past scientific articles proposing aprotective effect for calcium supplements, and highlighted errors in the procedures, which had led to an overestimation of the effect studied.
By correcting old mistakes (which had been accepted for many years…), authors concluded that calcium as a supplement does not produce any specific benefit in terms of protection from the fracture risk (here the full text of the article).
This is something directly regarding a large number of people, since:
- Almost every woman who goes through menopause is recommended to increase the consumption of milk and dairy products without much explanation.
- Excesses in calcium intake may lead to a number of serious general and heart-related disorders, while increasing mortality from any cause as demonstrated since 2013.
- Calcium is the most advertised and prescribed supplement worldwide.
Clearly, it is important to stop and reflect around the meaning of such an intense campaign in support of a bigger integration of this mineral. The message conveyed seems to tell that an over-50 person cannot think of being healthy if he/she does not stuff himself/herself on yogurt and cheese.
Not only we know how this is not true, but also we are now aware that we may run into some serious risks better to be avoided such as those heart-related.
In addition, it is worth noting that the increase in bone mineralization density produced by calcium intake has proved to be extremely modest (Tai V et al, BMJ. 2015 Sep 29; 351: h4183. Doi:10.1136/bmj.h4183), certainly not effective in preventing fractures.
By analysing all these studies, there is only one aspect in favour of calcium supplementation: it can be helpful solely when the person is truly deprived, for example as a consequence of certain malnutrition forms.
In the western world, calcium is excessively present in drinking water and daily diet; in fact, numerous authors reported how we have been taking too much of it as a result of its excess.
Perhaps in some people it does not stick into bones for long as a consequence of inflammatory problems or vitamin D deficiency, but calcium as such is really abundant and more than sufficient.
We keep saying loudly that to really improve our bone health we should focus on controlling inflammation, on doing physical activity, on integrating the right amounts of all the minerals (not just one).
The right amount of Vitamin D is essential, together with a healthy lifestyle. It is not by gorging on calcium that we will be able to look after bone health and prevent fractures.