Strong Bones or Osteoporosis, Part I: Beware of Too Much Calcium

By Earl Staelin   

Americans have been taught that they need lots of calcium, especially post-menopausal women who frequently develop osteoporosis with the risk of spontaneous fractures. Older men also lose calcium in their bones, more gradually at first, although they tend to catch up with women when in their seventies. Adequate calcium absorption and levels of calcium in blood and tissues are of course essential for all children and adults for bones and teeth, and for women who are breast feeding or pregnant. In the U.S. 10 million men and women have osteoporosis, a disease of seriously weakened bones. One out of two women and one in eight men breaks a bone due to osteoporosis. After a hip fracture one in five dies within a year. However, excess calcium intake may cause muscle spasms, the calcium may appear as unwanted deposits in organs and tissues, such as bone spurs or plaque in the wall of blood vessels or in kidneys, heart, and liver, and it may increase the risk of cancer and cause other symptoms, including migraine headaches, pain, kidney stones, depression, and heart arrhythmia. Americans consume milk and milk products as well as calcium supplements at one of the highest rates in the world. Yet we have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world.

Of course the goal is to have calcium in the right amounts in all tissues. But how much do we need? Despite all that has been written about calcium, it is not at all clear how much calcium humans need. This article will show that the conventional wisdom about calcium, which a number of prominent nutrition authorities reject, is faulty and incomplete, and that optimal health requires a substantial revision of our thinking about calcium.