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Higher calcium intake unlikely to prevent fractures, experts say

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Increasing calcium intake — either through dietary sources or by taking calcium supplements — is unlikely to improve bone health or prevent fractures in older people.

That´s according to two research studies published last week by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Collectively, the results suggest that increasing calcium intake should not be recommended for fracture prevention, the BMJ said.

The current UK government recommendation is that adults need 700 mg of calcium a day, and some experts advise older men and women to maintain an intake of at least 1000 – 1200 mg/day to improve bone density and help prevent fractures.

Calcium supplements are commonly taken to meet the recommendations, but concerns have recently emerged about the safety of these supplements, leading some experts to recommend increasing calcium intake through food instead.

Researchers in New Zealand set out to examine the evidence underpinning recommendations to increase calcium intake from dietary sources or supplements to improve bone health and prevent fractures. They also wanted to determine whether increasing calcium intake from dietary sources affects bone mineral density and, if so, whether the effects are similar to those of calcium supplements.

After examining all the evidence, they concluded that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources or by taking calcium supplements produces only small increases in bone mineral density which are unlikely to lead to a clinically significant reduction in risk of fracture.

There is no clinical trial evidence to show that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources prevents fractures, and evidence that calcium supplements prevent fractures is weak and inconsistent, they said.

So, is it time to rethink advice on increasing calcium intake beyond what´s obtained as part of a normal balanced diet? A BMJ editorial written by Professor Karl Michaëlsson from Uppsala University in Sweden argues that it is.

“The weight of evidence against such mass medication of older people is now compelling, and it is surely time to reconsider these controversial recommendations,” he said.