According to 2 studies published in the British Medical Journal supplementing with calcium in an effort to prevent fractures and boost bone density as we get older does not work.

Currently the NHS advises that adults need 700mg of calcium daily but most patients who either have osteoporosis or are considered at risk of developing it are recommended a supplement.

The studies, that took place in New Zealand looked at the effect of both diet and supplements on the bone health of both women and men over the age of 50.

The first study found that a 1-2% increase in bone mineral density could be achieved by either increasing dietary calcium or taking supplements but this is “unlikely to lead to a clinically meaningful reduction in risk of fracture.”

The second study concluded that dietary calcium intake is not associated with risk of fracture, and found no evidence from clinical trials that increasing the amount consumed prevented such breaks.

There has been concern in the past about the safety of supplementing calcium with some studies showing that high levels can double the risk of heart attack although other studies deem supplementation to be safe.

Professor Karl Michaelsson from Uppsala University in Sweden said: “The official recommendations in the UK and Nordic countries of 700-800 mg/day of dietary calcium for adults seem at present to be enough …… this intake can be achieved with a normal varied diet.

He went on to say: “Most will not benefit from increasing their intakes and will be exposed instead to a higher risk of adverse events such as constipation, cardiovascular events, kidney stones, or admission for acute gastrointestinal symptoms”.

Dietary sources of calcium

It is generally accepted that dietary sources are the best way to ensure that people at risk get adequate calcium in their diet.

We tend to assume that milk and other dairy products are the best sources but good levels of calcium can be found in:

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Almonds
  • Dried beans – especially black eyed peas
  • Oranges
  • Turnip greens
  • Sesame seeds
  • tofu