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Bone, Muscle & Joint Health | Diet & Nutrition
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7 Myths About Calcium, Vitamin D and Healthy Bones

Learn the truth about calcium myths

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Osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become porous and easily shatter, can rob us of independence as we age.

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D can prevent osteoporosis and help us remain active and independent.

Myths about calcium, a mineral found in many foods, and vitamin D, absorbed from food and sunshine, are common. Below, two Cleveland Clinic experts from our Endocrine Calcium Clinic offer the facts:

Myth #1: Only elderly women develop osteoporosis.

Fact: Osteoporosis is most common in women over age 65. However, osteoporosis occurs in men and in younger women too. Women who start menopause early are at risk, for example. So is anyone taking medications such as long-term steroids, certain blood thinners, seizure drugs or medications for acid reflux.

Anyone, male or female, who doesn’t exercise or whose diet is low in calcium or vitamin D is also at risk of osteoporosis. Diseases that interfere with bone health, such as celiac disease and hyperparathyroidism, may also result in osteoporosis.

Bone density evaluation — typically recommended for women starting at age 65 — should begin earlier if you are at risk. “Seeing a physician for this evaluation is critical,” says endocrinologist Leila Khan, MD. A doctor with expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis will make recommendations based on your personal and family health history.

Myth #2: If you’re lactose-intolerant, you can only get calcium from supplements.

Fact: Lactose intolerance, in which the natural sugar in milk products causes belly pain, gas and bloating, is common. But not all dairy products are off-limits for those with the condition. “Yogurt that has live cultures in it has very low levels of lactose,” says internist and metabolic specialist Susan Williams, MD. “Similarly, aged cheeses have little or no lactose.” Nondairy foods that can help supply calcium include dark leafy greens and calcium-fortified foods such as cereal and juice.

Myth #3: You can’t take calcium supplements if you have trouble swallowing pills.

Fact: Chewable supplements are an option. Calcium citrate is better absorbed than calcium carbonate, and calcium citrate supplements come in chewable form. “My personal favorite is calcium gummies — they are very easy to take, provide an easily absorbed form of calcium that does not have to be taken with meals, and taste great,” says Dr. Williams.

Myth #4: It’s not a big deal if you forget to take your calcium supplements.

Fact: Your body needs to maintain a constant level of calcium to keep your bones strong and your muscles functioning. “If you do not get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take some calcium from the bones in order to keep the blood calcium levels normal,” explains Dr. Williams. That is why most of us require calcium supplements if we do not get the recommended 1,200 milligrams or more of calcium per day in our diet.

Myth #5: There’s an ‘ideal’ dose of vitamin D.

Fact: Many adults are deficient in vitamin D, but experts debate the frequency and dose of supplementation. “At this time, it is unclear what the ideal dose of vitamin D should be,” says Dr. Khan. Depending on your level of vitamin D, physicians may recommend high doses (50,000 international units or IU) once a week or once a month to correct deficiencies, or a daily dose of 2,000 to 4,000 IU. Either way, blood tests should prove that the deficiency is corrected, which can take several months. Dr. Khan looks for vitamin D levels of 30 to 40 milligrams per deciliter in her patients. “Higher numbers can be OK, but a low number can be detrimental to bones and potentially cause bone loss,” she says.

Myth #6: Eating dairy and taking calcium are all that’s needed to prevent osteoporosis.

Fact: You need to make healthy lifestyle choices too. That means avoiding excess alcohol, not smoking, keeping your weight in check and exercising regularly. Routine workouts — including walking and other weight-bearing exercises — will help maintain muscle and bone strength. “Keeping your muscles strong will prevent falls — and if we can prevent falls, we can often prevent broken bones,” notes Dr. Williams.

Myth #7: You can’t get too much calcium.

Fact: Too much calcium is not a good thing. If your calcium levels are too high, “stay off the calcium supplements, including Tums®!” says Dr. Khan. “I would be careful how much vitamin D you are taking and would discuss stopping hydrochlorothiazide medication for blood pressure with your physician, since these can result in higher calcium levels.” If you have persistently high calcium levels, don’t ignore them — seek an evaluation from an expert.

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Tags: Be Well e-News, bone health, osteoporosis, vitamin D
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  • Jimednagul

    Why don’t you make it possible to print just  the main article>

    • Health Hub Team

      Thank you for your comment. We are looking into this option, and we appreciate the feedback.

  • Itctt

    What about algaecal? is that a good source of calcium?  I had a reaction to the high dosage of vitamin D.  It began to affect my breathing

    • Health Hub Team

      Although there is a great deal of information in the lay press about algaecal, there is essentially no scientific information that I could find regarding its ability to be absorbed or used by the bones. Algaecal is a plant-based calcium supplement, and in general, plant-based sources are not well absorbed in the body. The best sources of calcium still come from the diet and include dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheeses. If you are unable to get about 1200 mg of calcium from your diet, then a supplement can be beneficial. The easiest form of calcium to absorb is calcium citrate.
       
      As for the Vitamin D, often a lower dose supplement of 1000 to 2000 IU of Vitamin D3 is well tolerated (and better absorbed) when taken with your largest meal of the day. But before you start this or any supplement, discuss it with your doctor. — Susan Williams, MD

  • Artistinwestonfl

    I’ve started taking collage in powder form to help, with my thinning hair, nails, along with biotin, & silica, I’m a vegetarian & eat plenty of greens daily kale, collards, brocoli,& aome fruits, & grains, & lots of beans, & my calcium level’s ok with just that it seems,plus doing weights, & exercising.  Do you have any commnets as far as help with hair, nails, & what would be best source for help with that.  Thank u. Viv 

    • Health Hub Team

      There are two important points to be considered here. First, the blood calcium level is only a measure of the calcium in the blood; it does not tell you where that calcium is coming from. It may be from the diet, or it may be from the bones — only your doctor can help determine that with other tests such as the test for vitamin D.
       
      Second, there are many reasons why a person may experience thinning hair and nails, and they can sometimes be an indicator of a serious underlying problem. So rather than taking powders and pills that are unlikely to be beneficial, it is recommended that you see your physician for these issues. — Susan Williams, MD

      • Artistinwestonfl

        I have my regular ck. ups, with Doctors, everything has  always checked out better than normal,  specially since I’m almost 60, most my age are overweight &/or taking all types of medications, I take none as I’ve never been told I need any prescriptions of any sort. (I just believe in my humblest opinion that the older we get the less hair we have, as it thins out with aging),( not sure what age group the medical staff here happens to be or yourself or if you’ve bountiful locks & strong long nails, in any case, I’ve never felt better, exercise with weights, do cardio, & eat healthier than most, I was just asking if you feel anything can  make an improvement, on hair quality, skin, & nails,  thank you for referring me to a medical consultation for that.  

        • Lmyers

          Thyroid deficiency is the leading cause of thinning hair and nails in women and the tests are invalid.If your temperature is low, seek a physician who treats based on symptoms, not invalid tests.

  • Sgooding1

    If people stop ingesting dairy period they would not develop osteoporosis. Dairy is bad for you,it takes the calcium out of your bones in stead of putting it in. Almond milk is much higher in calcium that cows milk.Milks were intended for baby calfs only.

    • Geneo56

      The logic of the cows milk is intended for calfs only is on par with saying almonds are for producing new almond trees only.

      • GeorgeBMac

        No, there is well researched evidence that cow increases the acidity in the blood stream – which then causes the body to extract calcium from the bones in order to compensate. So, instead of increasing bone density, cows milk decreases it.

        And further, those countries with the greatest intake of cows milk tend to have the highest rates of osteoporosis.

        • WS

          Absolutely right George. Countries with the highest rates of dairy intake also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Broccoli is a great source of calcium without the side affects.

      • Alan Jaffe

        Geneo56… Here’s some breaking news. Cow’s milk is meant only for baby cows, goat ‘s milk is meant only for baby goats, gorilla milk is meant only for baby gorillas, etc., and believe it or not, human’s milk is meant only for baby humans.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dsaeger1 Doris Goodwill Saeger

    I just heard recently that taking calcium with D can cause a heart attack in women.  Is this true?

    • Health Hub Team

      There have been concerns raised regarding calcium supplements in the scientific community, including concerns that there may be higher amount of cardiovascular risk. A recent review from the journal Heart looked at 23,980 participants in Europe ages 35 to 64 years. After following the group for 11 years, researchers found that users of calcium supplements had an increased risk of myocardial infarction of statistical significance. One conclusion of the trial is that calcium supplements need to be taken with caution. There are suggestions that calcium from diet may be safer. Overall, at this point, it is too premature to conclude that calcium supplement can cause heart attack in women, but you should have a detailed conversation with your physician to determine the best course of treatment for you. — Leila Khan, MD

  • Carolyn Cutler

    This has been very helpful in making a decision on taking supplements , I personally believe we take too many pills, and they sometime do more harm than good.
    Some are necessary other will just cause different problems

  • gayle

    I worry about my 11 yr old gr-daughter. She has Dravet Syndrome and has been on anti-seizure drugs since she was 6 months old. She won’t drink milk or eat chewable supplements… any thoughts?

  • Pat

    I have been advised that 1200 mg is the correct dosage for women over 65. I currently take 1200 mg daily, plus there is 500 mg of calcium in my Centrum Silver multivitamin. Myth #7 states that calcium levels should not be too high. What are the correct levels? What are the dangers associated with high calcium levels? And….is 1200 mg just an average or should dosages above 1200 mg be strictly adhered to?

  • Gregooch

    According to Dr. T Colin Cambell’s China Study a comparison of the eastern and western diets effects on health – the countries with the highest intake of dairy also have the highest rates of breast cancer and osteoperosis. If you listen to Food Inc on you tube they also tell you the dairy industry has been lying to us for decades about the benefits of dairy and calcium. Japan who uses the least dairy, also has a near zero rate of breast and colon cancer and osteoperosis.

  • Gregooch

    Western medicine needs to catch up with the stone age.

  • munish sharma

    My mom, 52, is on warfarin, due to a prosthetic metallic valve and atrial fibrillation. She’s a vegetarian, is off greens (for their vitamin k content) and consumes about half a litre of milk daily. Bone densitometry reveals mild degradation of mineral density. Can she start calcium supplementation without it affecting her cardiac health, given that she also has a mildly calcified aortic valve? She does light exercises daily.

  • sandra

    I was told by my cardiologist not to take calcium pills. Just to eat high calcium foods. I don’t have osteoporosis and my bone density test was very good.

  • Sharlene Brown

    Has there been any study’s done on people who have had three parathyroid glands removed (like I have) as to how much or often they take Calcium with D and minerals. I seem to get heart palpatations if I go longer than 5-6 hrs day and night, so do take caltrate 600 w/d and min. Just wonder if I’m one of a kind..or have others had same reaction. My blood test each year comes back in a ‘normal’ range by doing this. Been thirty years since I started taking calcium.

  • Ann

    I have heard many times that studies (plural) have shown that countries where the consumption of dairy is at the highest (U.S. and England, for examples) have the worst rate of osteoporosis. If fact, dairy consumption and the rate of osteo. seem to go hand in hand. I, for one, have actually REDUCED my dairy consumption (not eliminated it), but have also greatly increased my vegetable consumption, particularly green leafy vegetables. I’m hearing more and more that many vitamins and minerals play a role in this disease….Vitamin K, potassium, D3, etc. I recall it wasn’t too long ago that docs were saying all you need is calcium. Then calcium and magnesium…nothing else. Then they added Vitamind D. Then, recently, Vitamin K. Now, other nutrients are being discussed. I have a feeling many, many vital nutrients play a role. I have a feeling good nutrition, supplementation as appropriate and exercise plays a HUGE role and although this isn’t the topic here….it is such an IMPORTANT role, these things should be seriously explored before osteo. drugs should ever be considered. Short, but helpful article, thank you.

  • Concerned

    Helpful article! After reading MUCH on the topic, I think most folks should actually reduce their dairy intake (not completely eliminate it) but save it for small amounts of good yogurt, for example. Instead, go for lots and lots of healthy, organic green vegetables and some supplementation. I like the other suggestions:exercise, etc. I think vitamins D and K are important. Reduce, sugar, alcohol, perhaps meat and eliminate soda! Increase veggies and fruit. Read some good books on the subject! They are out there.

  • Alan Jaffe

    Since when do almonds make almond trees? Milk from cows or other animals is in fact meant only for that animal, not for humans.