While the mainstream generally believes in the myth that supplements are useless at best, they often make an exception for calcium supplements—especially for older women.
When women lose estrogen after menopause, bones can weaken. To try and combat this problem, big pharma pushes osteoporosis drugs that are not only dangerous, but ineffective. These drugs actually attempt to build bone by poisoning an entire class of bone cell responsible for removing unhealthy old bone and recycling calcium—which means bone cells end up forming new bone on top of a rotten foundation. Now there’s a recipe for disaster…
So, doctors who want to take a more “natural” approach recommend calcium supplements to fight osteoporosis. But, as I’ve written before, research shows calcium supplements can increase the risk of heart disease, dementia, kidney disease, and—paradoxically—bone fractures.
So what should you do instead?
Well, first of all, there’s new research from Europe showing the optimal levels of calcium you need for good bone health—and the best way to get it.
Plus, my own anthropological and medical training, in addition to years of studying the latest research, shows there’s one overlooked nutrient for bone health that’s just as important as calcium.
Yet another use for vitamin D
I learned in medical school in the 1970s that vitamin D is the real way the body absorbs and balances calcium in bones and other tissues. Then, during my medical training, I went to Southeast Asia for research fieldwork and saw real-life examples of this in action.
You see, Chinese and Asian populations have virtually no dairy industry (because a majority lack the gene to digest lactose, or milk sugar).
Of course, dairy is a primary source of calcium. Yet the Chinese don’t get any calcium from dairy foods in their diet. So, it would make sense for them to have had high rates of osteoporosis, right? Instead, I found that osteoporosis was almost unknown in China.
The conclusion? It takes about more than just calcium when it comes to osteoporosis.
In fact, according to a new European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) clinical guideline, for women who actually have osteoporosis, clinical trials have shown the effectiveness of calcium when taken with vitamin D.
The Goldilocks approach to calcium levels
But the key is to consume just the right amount of calcium. The EMAS guideline concludes that 700 to 1,200 mg of calcium daily is sufficient for bone health. Anything more, researchers advise, is useless and potentially harmful.1
If fact, one of the authors of the guideline (which included information from 10 years’ worth of osteoporosis studies) believes calcium doses should be even more restrictive—from 700 to 1,000 mg a day.
So how does this compare to the U.S.? Well, alarmingly, a joint (no pun intended) guideline last year from the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the American Society of Preventive Cardiology recommended taking—wait for it—2,000 to 2,500 mg of calcium per day.
This level is at the limit established by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2011—and it’s more than double what the European guidelines recommend.
Why are U.S. numbers so high? I suspect it may be a futile attempt to address bone health in a population with poor diets and woefully insufficient vitamin D levels.
Why food is the answer, not pills
The EMAS scientists said about 30 percent of postmenopausal women in Europe and North America have osteoporosis, and about 40 percent of them will experience bone fractures.
However, the EMAS scientists noted that while drugs are used to try to prevent osteoporosis in the U.S., that’s not the case in Europe.
Instead, the European emphasis for prevention and treatment is on diet and lifestyle. Even despite their lower guidelines, the EMAS scientists report that over-supplementation with calcium is a problem. In fact, one study found that half of women were taking too much calcium.
That’s why the EMAS researchers recommend getting calcium from a balanced diet. And even if you consume extra calcium from the food you eat, it doesn’t have the same effect in your body as too much calcium from supplements.
In the cases of women who don’t follow a balanced diet, European medical professionals then recognize the need for calcium supplementation. And when women decline calcium supplements, they simply take vitamin D supplements instead. It sounds like the Europeans have it figured out.
So if you want to protect yourself from osteoporosis, skip the drugs and calcium supplements. A great place to start is to follow a balanced diet which includes dairy, meat, seafood, and leafy greens.
And take 10,000 a day of vitamin D—especially at this time of year, when the sun doesn’t get high enough in the sky to activate vitamin D in the skin in most parts of North America. I like an easy-to-use liquid form—preferably with astaxanthin, a powerhouse marine carotenoid with numerous health benefits of its own (that I reported in a recent Daily Dispatch titled, “Little-known marine carotenoid can increase your longevity”).
Be sure to get in 15 to 20 minutes a day of moderately brisk walking, or other exercise (preferably outdoors), to help keep your bones strong.
Lastly, be sure to get your vitamin D levels checked at your next annual doctor’s check-up. The ideal vitamin D level for optimal health is 30 ng/ml or more.
Getting older makes it more difficult to get enough of this crucial vitamin. With natural supplementation, proper diet, and exercise, you can enjoy stronger bones and evade a laundry list of unpleasant symptoms and chronic disease.
1“Calcium in the prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis: EMAS clinical guide.” Maturitas, Volume 107, 7–12.
2“Lack of Evidence Linking Calcium With or Without Vitamin D Supplementation to Cardiovascular Disease in Generally Healthy Adults: A Clinical Guideline From the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the American Society for Preventive Cardiology.” Ann Intern Med. 2016;165(12):867-868.