Q & A Library
How Much Calcium?
I recently read that people in other countries don’t get as much calcium as we do in the U.S. but have lower rates of osteoporosis. What does this mean? Should we be consuming less calcium after all?
Answer (Published 10/12/2006)
What you read is correct. In a number of countries, including Japan, India, and Peru, the average daily calcium intake is only 300 mg. That’s much less than the 1,000 mg recommended for adults between the ages of 19 and 50 in the U.S., yet the incidence of bone fractures in these countries is very low. In addition, evidence from some large studies indicates that calcium doesn’t actually reduce the risk of osteoporosis as we once thought. For example, in two studies conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, participants who drank one glass or less of milk per week had no greater risk of breaking a hip or forearm than those who drank two or more glasses of milk per week.
After reviewing this data and discussing it with Walter Willett, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, I’m revising my calcium recommendation downward. In the past, I recommended 1,200 mg daily in divided doses and 1,500 mg for postmenopausal women who were not on hormone replacement therapy. I now suggest that women supplement with 500 to 700 mg of calcium citrate in two divided doses taken with meals, for a total daily intake of 1,000-1,200 mg from all sources. For men, I now suggest aiming for 500 mg from all sources, and that men probably do not need to supplement (higher amounts have been linked to increased risks of prostate cancer). Men should also watch their dairy intake. The Harvard study determined that men who drank two glasses of milk a day (that translates to about 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium) had twice the incidence of developing advanced prostate cancer.
Lower amounts of calcium should be sufficient to protect bones. However, the lifestyle measures listed below can help prevent bone loss as you get older (after 30 both men and women begin losing bone mass slowly; this accelerates for women after menopause):
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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