Calcium good for you — but only to a point

I am 60 years old and have always been health conscious. I eat right and exercise three times a week. Recently, I read that too much calcium can increase your risk of heart attack. Is this true? Also, how much?


Dear Mary,

How often did you hear the phrase “drink your milk” as a child? Milk is a good source of calcium, which is essential for healthy bones. Our bodies form bones until about 18 years of age. After this point, we should consume enough calcium in our diet or use supplements to maintain healthy bones.

There is debate among experts about the link between excess calcium and heart attacks, and studies have produced mixed results. Some studies have even found that calcium reduces the risk of heart disease, especially when consumed in the diet.

One theory is that when a calcium supplement is taken, the body uses what it needs and leaves the excess in the blood. These calcium particles build up on the walls of the arteries, increasing plaque that narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to the heart. When blood flow decreases, oxygen also decreases. Eventually, part of the heart does not receive enough oxygen to survive, resulting in a myocardial infarction or heart attack.

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The recommended daily amount of calcium for adults is 1,000 mg up to age 50. This increases to 1,200 mg per day for women over 50 and men over 70. Why the age difference? When women enter menopause, the body’s estrogen decreases significantly. Estrogen is needed to prevent bone destruction. While testosterone performs the same function in men, there is no sharp drop in this hormone, as does estrogen in women.

How much? The upper limit for calcium intake is 2,000 mg for men 51 years and older; 2,500 mg for women of the same age.

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Remember that vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption. This vitamin can be obtained from sunlight, fortified milk, and fatty fish such as mackerel and tuna. It is also added to soy milk, juice, and fortified cereals.

It is always best to meet your calcium needs through diet. A simple reason for this is that you are less likely to get an excess of minerals this way. Most of us don’t drink a gallon of milk a day or eat 10 cups of kale. Another option is the 50/50 plan. Get half of your calcium needs in your diet and take a supplement containing 500 mg of calcium.

When choosing a calcium supplement, remember that calcium citrate is better absorbed. It would also be wise to choose a supplement with the USP on the label. This means that the United States Pharmacopeia has tested the product for potency and absorption.

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Some good sources of dietary calcium include:

• Fortified soy milk, 1 cup, 80-500 mg (varies by brand)

• Cow’s milk (2%), 1 glass, 295 mg

• Spinach, 1 cup raw, 55 mg

• Kale, 1 cup raw, 95 mg

• Cheddar cheese, 1 slice, 205 mg

• Greek yogurt (non-fat) 8 ounces, 200 mg

• Navy blue beans, 1 cup cooked, 120 mg

• Tofu (firm), ½ cup, 260 mg

Until next time, stay healthy!

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, aka Beloved Dietitian, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Its mission is to educate the public on healthy, science-based nutrition. Have a question about nutrition? Email him today at [email protected] she. Dear Dietitian does not endorse any product, health program or diet plan.


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