There’s no question that calcium is important. This vital mineral promotes strong bones and teeth, helps your blood to clot as it should, and helps your muscles to contract—supporting heart health and healthy blood pressure.
If you don’t get enough calcium through your diet or supplements, your body will “steal” it from your teeth and bones, which is where most of the calcium in your body is stored. This is one of the reasons doctors have routinely prescribed calcium supplements to their postmenopausal patients at relatively high doses of 1,000-5,000 mg—in order to preserve, and build, bone strength.
Yet, with Calcium Supplements “Less Is More”
In recent years, I’ve lowered my recommended dosages for calcium supplements significantly. That’s because research has shown high-dose calcium supplements can contribute to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)—increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
In one study published in 2016 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers studied 5,448 adults ages 45-84 who had not been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. They measured their coronary artery calcification (CAC) at the beginning of the study. Then, they repeated the CAC measurement with 2,742 of the participants 10 years later.
What they found is that the source of the calcium is extremely important. A high “total calcium” intake was associated with a decrease in atherosclerosis. But while dietary sources of calcium were protective for the heart, high-dose calcium supplements contributed to plaque buildup in the arteries.
How Much Calcium Should You Take?
Given the research around calcium and heart health, I recommend limiting calcium supplements to:
- Women: 200-400 mg daily
- Men: 100-150 mg daily
The rest of your calcium should come from healthy dietary sources, such as:
- Bok choy
- Leafy green vegetables
- Sardines (with bones)
- Wild-caught salmon (with bones)
I also recommend using caution with calcium-fortified foods, such as dairy products or orange juice, since these enriched foods can act as a dietary supplement in the body—leading to calcifications that can contribute to heart disease.