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Who Should Take Calcium Supplements?

Allison Inserro
A recent review of calcium supplementation suggests that the supplements should be prescribed with caution, accounting for individual risks and benefits.
A recent review of calcium supplementation suggests that the supplements should be prescribed with caution, accounting for individual risks and benefits.

Osteoporosis is a serious disease that severely impacts the quality of life of people who have it. It has grown into one of the most serious problems in public health. The recently published article reviewed the health benefits, costs, and consequences of calcium supplementation on osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures, as well as kidney stones, gastrointestinal diseases, and cardiovascular events. The researchers called calcium “a double-edge sword.”

Calcium supplementation is a billion-dollar market, with about 61% of women 60 years or older taking calcium supplements between 2003 to 2006. Because calcium is one of the components of human bone, most researchers believe that high calcium intake may improve bone density. As bone mass grows most quickly during adolescence, osteoporosis prevention should ideally start during that period, the authors said.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation has said that there is a benefit to calcium intake to prevent osteoporosis. Other studies have shown a protective role for bone health, improving bone mass density, and reducing morbidity of osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures.

In postmenopausal women, studies have indicated a benefit to calcium supplementation. However, in premenopausal women, there is not sufficient evidence to recommend supplements to prevent fractures, except for possibly those who already have an osteoporosis diagnosis, those with a history of fracture, or those who are otherwise considered at higher risk.

There is also a lack of data to recommend supplements to pregnant or lactating women, unless the women have low calcium intake. Similarly, there is no evidence to support routine calcium supplements for children, unless they have low calcium intake or have a high risk of the disease.

While there are some benefits to calcium supplementation, there are also some risks. The researchers reported that adverse events may include heart attack, constipation, kidney stones, and colon neoplasms.

Other studies have found that calcium does not have any beneficial effect on osteoporosis and fractures; in fact, some studies have indicated a possible increase in risk. Further research is needed, the authors said.


Li K, Wang XF, Li DY, et al. The good, the bad, and the ugly of calcium supplementation: a review of calcium intake on human health [published online November 28, 2018]. Clin Interv Aging. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S157523.

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