Everyone seems to be confused about the benefits and risks of calcium supplementation for menopausal women. So let’s straighten this out once and for all.
Understanding Calcium Supplements
Calcium provides important bone health protection for women over the age of 50. The current recommendation for calcium intake is 1200mg/day. The research clearly shows that this amount of calcium will significantly reduce bone loss and osteoporotic fracture. Since osteoporosis is a major health issue for women after menopause, it makes sense to do everything possible to prevent it. So why is there controversy?
The confusion arises, because many women have been taught to take their total calcium requirement in the form of a supplement. It turns out that this has potential harmful effects on the kidney and heart. With this level of supplementation, women are at higher risk for kidney stones and higher blood calcium levels. Higher blood calcium levels can cause more calcium deposits in the coronary arteries and lead to an increased risk for heart disease.
So pay close attention, because here comes the latest and safest recommendation for midlife women. While we still need to get 1200 mg/day of calcium to maintain bone health and prevent fracture, we are all being encouraged to eat calcium-rich foods and supplement as needed. I recommend my patients Google “calcium-rich foods” to find the ones they prefer. I love Chobani Coconut Yogurt, which has 300mg of calcium. I also enjoy cheese but that is higher in calories. You might favor broccoli or kale if you are not able to tolerate dairy foods due to lactose intolerance. The take home message is to eat at least 500mg of calcium-rich foods every day.
I can tell you from experience that it is practically impossible to eat 1200 mg of dietary calcium every single day. So that is where calcium supplementation comes in. The current recommendation is to take just one 500 mg calcium tablet daily. I like Citrical Petite, because the tablets are small and easy to swallow.
HOW MUCH VITAMIN D SHOULD YOU TAKE AND WHY?
There is no controversy regarding the important role that Vitamin D plays in bone health. Vitamin D works together with calcium to improve bone density and reduce fracture risk. There is, however, confusion about what other benefits are associated with Vitamin D. Does it improve heart health? Diabetes? Reduce cancer risk and autoimmune disease? There really is not enough good scientific evidence to make those claims. Taking more than the recommended amount of Vitamin D should also be avoided, because, as with most things, more is not better.
The recommended daily amount of Vitamin D for women over 50 is 600-800 IU/day. We can either get Vitamin D by sitting in the sun, or we can take a supplement. Sun exposure increases our risk of skin cancer and premature aging. So I say, wear your sunscreen and take a daily supplement instead.
It is a good idea to have your Vitamin D level checked once a year. If your level is below 20 ng/ml, you will need to take more than the daily recommendation to fill up the Vitamin D tank. If your level is above 50 ng/ml, you will need to cut back on supplementation. There are many Calcium and Vitamin D choices that are already combined to make taking them daily that much easier.
So the take-home message today is to eat as much of your daily calcium requirement through food and supplement with only one Calcium/Vitamin D tablet a day.
Your bones, kidneys and heart are all in agreement on this!