Is Calcium Good or Bad?

What you’ve always heard

Calcium is good — especially for women, who can lose as much as 20 percent of their bone mass in the decade after menopause. The mineral can help prevent osteoporosis and has also been linked to better blood pressure, lower risk of colorectal cancer, and easier weight loss.

What headlines are saying now

Calcium might be bad for your heart, at least if you get it from a pill. A recent analysis of seven years of data from more than 36,000 postmenopausal women found that starting daily supplements (1,000 mg of calcium plus 400 IU of vitamin D) increased the risk of heart problems by up to 22 percent. The numbers were a shock: When combined with other data, they suggest that if 1,000 people began taking calcium supplements, the pills would prevent three fractures — but cause six heart attacks or strokes.

What to do

Calcium supplements have lost some of their luster (though no one doubts the benefits of high-calcium foods). What’s more, it seems that people are doing a better job of getting the mineral in their diet than previously thought. To keep your bones strong and your body healthy, do lots of weight-bearing exercise and eat plenty of produce and low-fat dairy, says cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, author of Dr. Nieca Goldberg’s Complete Guide to Women’s Health. And get enough vitamin D (it helps you absorb calcium). The bottom line according to Aurelia Nattiv, MD, director of the UCLA Osteoporosis Center: The best way to get calcium is through food — and if a supplement is needed, most people should take no more than 600 mg daily.

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