Q: I just started working with a new female, 56-year-old client who is on the verge of menopause. She’s really concerned about bone density, so given what she’s “googled” on her own, she’s taking about 1500mg of calcium daily. Isn’t this way over the top? I know that calcium is important, but can’t it be dangerous too? Should I recommend she decrease this dosage?
A: Yes, yes, yes! Studies repeatedly show that higher calcium intake does not help bones long-term. Flexible bones are made up of a matrix of protein. We typically become vulnerable to fractures as we age because we stop digesting protein well and/or (for women at least) our estrogen levels plummet. Make sure her gastrointestinal tract is working well and that she is consuming adequate protein.
Strong bones are fortified with a rich mix of minerals including magnesium, boron, strontium, magnesium, manganese, and calcium. Vitamin D and Vitamin K are also critical to make sure the calcium you eat actually makes it into your bones (vs. more dangerous places like your kidneys (as stones) or arteries (in calcified lining)). We focus on calcium-alone to our detriment! Despite promotion otherwise, high levels of calcium can end up hiding in other places in your body and causing big problems.
Dr. Walter Willet, from Harvard University’s School of Public Health has recommended no more than 700mg total calcium per day for healthy adults. And part of this comes from food (even without dairy). So I recommend most healthy adults don’t need to supplement over 500mg unless there is a very targeted reason for doing so (and make sure it is not calcium carbonate but rather citrate or a mixed chelate). Given your client’s age, I also recommend a Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2 (make sure it’s the MK-7 form) supplement along with magnesium. These three are at least as important as calcium alone! Calcium may also constipate your client; if so, try adding extra magnesium citrate at night to support normal bowel movement.
Most often, however, I recommend the convenience of a combination formula that provide all these bone-building nutrients in a single supplement. One of my favorite supplements for maintenance bone support is Jarrow’s “Bone Up” (I only recommend at half dose). For women who have severe osteopenia or osteoporosis, the more advanced Garden of Life product called “Grow Bone” features strontium and is a powerful remedy for slowing, stopping, and eventually reversing bone density loss. I have used this blend to achieve these results very successfully with many clients over the years.