The idea that calcium-rich foods and calcium supplements lower your risk for fractures and help bone disease is quickly being debunked by science
You've known since you were a kid that you should drink your milk to grow big and strong. Why? Calcium helps strengthen your bones and lower your risk of fractures. Actually, research has begun to dethrone this idea, including two new studies, published in BMJ, that show the recommended daily dose of 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium isn't delivering any real benefit to our bones.
In the first study, researchers in New Zealand looked at bone mineral density in men and women over 50 and found that over a five year period, thsoe who took the reccomended dose of calcium supplements only had a 1 to 2 percent increase in bone health—not medically significant enough to say it helps prevent fractures, according to researchers. The researchers also went through past studies on calcium intake and risk of fracture to test the validity that upping calcium intake reduces the risk of fractures. The result? Data to support this idea is weak and inconsistent with no compelling evidence that getting 1,200 mg of calcium—whether from a natural dietary source or a supplement—will benefit your bone health down the line.
This news comes after another study in BMJ last year found that too much milk could actually hurt our bone health, as those who drank more milk had higher levels of oxidative stress, which can cause serious heart issues and actually had a higher incidence of fractures.
Well, according to the latest analyses the past research that's built the case for calcium has had one of two flaws: It's either been conducted in a small population that was already at risk for fractures, or the increase in bone density was marginal, just like what the first New Zealand study found. That's not to say all conflicting research is unflawed—even the 2014 study found the harmful connection in milk, not in calcium specifically. (Ask the Diet Doctor: Dangers of Milk.)
"Unfortunately as time advances in the world of health science, there is a lot of conflicting research, but you just have to take everything with a grain of salt," says New York-based nutritionist Lisa Moskovitz, R.D. Even if added calcium boasts no added bone benefits, it's still an important nutrient, particularly for weight management, PMS control, and even breast cancer prevention, she adds, so you should still fill up, just for other reasons.
She recommends aiming for two to three servings of calcium a day (roughly 1,000 mg), which is easy to score naturally through non-dairy foods like almonds, oranges, and dark leafy greens like spinach. Unless you're in a high-risk group like post-menopausal woman, taking supplements or sneaking in more servings is probably overkill.