The more calcium the better? Not so fast.
Calcium is one of the most important minerals for healthy bodies. Getting enough calcium ensures healthy function of nerves, blood vessels, and muscles—including the ultimate muscle, your heart. And of course, calcium is absolutely *essential* for your bone health as you age.
Your body stores calcium in your bones. You have so much calcium stored in your bones that it’s actually the most abundant mineral in your body. However, if you don’t consume enough calcium to fulfill all the aforementioned duties, your body steals a little bit of calcium directly from your bones.
When calcium is leached from the bones, it can weaken bone mineral density and make the bones more porous and fragile. The body already naturally becomes more porous as you age, so combining your natural aging with insufficient calcium is a recipe for osteoporosis. (Here are other risks of calcium deficiency.)
Osteoporosis is incredibly common, so campaigns to increase calcium consumption (and milk consumption, specifically) have been strong and steady for decades. The message has been pretty simple: more, more, more, and more.
This raises an important question: Is there such a thing as too much calcium?
How Much Calcium You *Actually* Need
The more calcium, the merrier … right? Sorry, but experts say no.
Kicking back more calcium than you actually need doesn’t come with any benefits, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. It definitely won’t make your bones indestructible, and in fact, it may come with risks.
For most U.S. adults, experts recommend 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. For women over 50 and men over 71, that recommendation is bumped up to 1,200 milligrams daily.
There’s really no need to go above these numbers. In fact, they are already on the high end. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of just 400 to 500 milligrams, almost half of what is recommended in the U.S. The higher guidelines in the U.S. were an attempt to ensure Americans were definitely getting enough calcium, especially since osteoporosis rates are so high.
The max limit for calcium is around 2,500 milligrams for adult men and women, or 2,000 milligrams for adults over 50. At that threshold, the individual will start to have negative health effects—and not the superhero bones they might have been aiming for. Health risks of too much calcium include:
And artery calcification.
Getting Enough Calcium: Food vs. Supplements
Here’s the thing: It’s rare to pass that upper limit of calcium through food. Supplements are often to blame. (Find out whether you actually need a calcium supplement here.)
It’s not hard to find calcium supplements that deliver 1,000 milligrams of calcium or more. If you follow the mantra of “more, more, more,” these supplement options might look ideal. However, you really don’t need all that—especially if you’re already getting calcium through food throughout the day.
Plus, the absorption of calcium is optimal when taken in doses less than 500 milligrams, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s counterintuitive, but the more calcium you consume in a single sitting, the lower the absorption percentage will be.
You’re better off seeking calcium through your diet, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy, leafy greens, and legumes. Getting calcium through food is beneficial because—instead of just getting a high dose of isolated calcium—you’re getting a multitude of different vitamins and nutrients, which experts suspect may work together in ways we don’t fully understand yet. For example, getting your calcium from leafy greens means you’re also getting goodies like fiber and potassium at the same time.
If strong bones are your goal, don’t forget to look beyond calcium intake:
Are you getting enough (or too much) calcium? Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Medicine. (Accessed on June 10, 2019 at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/are-you-getting-enough-or-too-much-calcium.)
Calcium: fact sheet for health professionals. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, 2018. (Accessed on June 10, 2019 at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/.)
Calcium/vitamin D. Arlington, VA: National Osteoporosis Foundation, 2018. (Accessed on June 10, 2019 at https://www.nof.org/patients/treatment/calciumvitamin-d/.)
Recommendations for preventing osteoporosis. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. (Accessed on June 10, 2019 at https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/en/gsfao_osteo.pdf.)