Are you getting too little or too much? Both have their risks.
Health-conscious Canadians are generally well-aware of the importance of calcium in building strong bones and teeth and in staving off the dreaded bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, which can gradually lead to bone fractures, stooped posture, and loss of height.
Calcium’s fame as a builder of bones has made this mineral ubiquitous. It is to be found in dairy (often fortified with extra calcium), orange juice, all sorts of vitamin and mineral supplements, and antacids, which claim not only to soothe your heartburn, but also build strong bones.
But if little bit of calcium is good for you, is more the better? Can too much calcium actually harm you?
Studies are coming out that suggest that the optimum (not high or low) levels of calcium requirement are probably lower than current recommended levels. Extra calcium beyond the optimum levels not only yields no extra benefit in terms of osteoporosis prevention but may actually increase your chances of getting prostate cancer. And consuming too much dairy may increase the risks of developing ovarian cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.
The Recommended Levels
At this time there is no general agreement as to what the optimum levels of calcium requirement are. Osteoporosis Canada recommends the following daily intake levels of calcium:
- 1,000 milligrams for those aged 19 to 50
- 1,500 milligrams for those aged 50 or more
The corresponding figures from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences are 1000 mg and 1200 mg. The UK Department of Health figure is just 700 mg for all adults.
A reasonable adult diet containing some green leafy vegetables and dried beans and legumes should provide 300 mg from non-dairy sources. The remainder can be obtained from low-fat dairy (a glass of milk provides 300 mg) and/or supplements.
Although there are many Canadians who fail to get adequate calcium, it is not at all difficult to overdose on calcium. A typical diet with a multivitamin and mineral tablet with three additional tablets of supplemental calcium plus two glasses of milk would furnish 2200 mg. Three tablets of antacid Tums would deliver, depending upon the product, anywhere from 600 mg to 1200 mg. of elemental calcium.
Although calcium is an extremely important mineral that helps build strong bones and teeth and possibly reduce the risk of colon cancer, it is prudent, in view of the health risks of developing prostate and ovarian cancers, to not exceed the recommended levels. To build healthy bones, make sure that, instead of overdosing on calcium, you get sufficient vitamin D (1000 IU per day) and K (from green leafy vegetables) and that you do regular weight-bearing exercise such as walking, jogging, and strength training.