Calcium Supplements: A Waste of Time?

A new study of healthy women over 50 years old found no broad benefit from calcium and Vitamin D supplements in preventing broken bones.

This 18 million dollar study was part of a Women's Health Initiative's look at a population of over 36,000 women ages 50-79. Participants were randomly assigned to take 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 iu of vitamins per day.

The results showed no major effect in preventing osteoporosis or colorectal cancer. The only subgroup of women that had a minor improvement in bone density were women over the age of 60.

The study also showed that overconsumption of calcium could lead to an increase in kidney stones. So where does this study leave women?

I asked R. Knight Steel, M.D., Chief, Division of Geriatrics at Hackensack University Medical Center, what he thought about the study and what happens next. Here's what he said:

"The authors of the study report that those who adhered most closely for seven years were most likely to see a benefit from supplementation. It seems wise for older women to consult with their physician about what is best for them. This may require a study of bone mineral density, supplementation, or the use of one of the drugs now available to decrease the risk of a fracture."

Now, I get questions all the time about drugs that are now available to decrease the risk of bone fracture. Both Actonel and Fosamax are members of the new family of drugs called bisphosphonates. They act by reducing the activity of bone cells and slowing the loss of calcium from the bones. One of the most significant side effects is irritation in the lining of the esophagus and stomach, which could lead to ulcers. As with any medication, you need to discuss your health risk with your primary care physician.

Remember, osteoporosis is a silent disease that affects millions of women. This report raises as many question as it answers, so we must continue looking for solutions. In the meantime, other treatment measures for healthy bones include weight-bearing exercise, reduction of excessive smoking and drinking, and, YES, a balanced diet rich in natural vitamins and minerals.

Here are some of your comments, keep them coming...

Dr Manny: I would like to point out a huge point about the study that claims limited or no benefit from taking calcium supplements for women's health. Although I am just a Massage Therapist, I am a huge reader of nutritional supplement news. The biggest flaw I see in this study is that the form of calcium used is calcium carbonate. As you probably know, calcium carbonate is basically powdered rock, which is very purely absorbed and used by the body. Although I can't give direct medical advice to my clients, I tell them what I tell my mother which is to take calcium citrate or calcium lactate which are both absorbed into the body well and used by the body at a much higher rate. Thanks for your time, and I hope we can see a study done in the future that actually uses a high quality form of calcium. Hope you are well — Erick Brekke LMT

Lack of sufficient magnesium is partially to blame for the higher incidence of premature birthing contractions. I know it greatly helps in mitigating PMS! Supplementing with magnesium helps asthmatics, chronic pain, depression and many other disorders, particularly, DIABETES. Nothing gets me more on my soap box than this topic. It is a very safe supplement and the only side effect from excessive dosages is sometimes diarrhea. We all need more than is in a one-a-day vitamin. — Kathy (Kennewick, WA)

Dr. Manny: Is there confusion about whether or not women should take calcium supplements or is it just me? I have been taking them for years. I am in great health, good bone density and over 50 years old. If we should stop taking them should we then be sure to drink milk or eat other dairy products? I really enjoy your common sense approach, advice, and input on the many health topics that show up in the news. Thank you — Linda (Suffolk, VA)

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Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit