(October 2010) by Dr Stephen Barker

It is a very confusing world out there! One week something can be good for you, the next week it’s bad and then perhaps there is a renaissance and it’s good all over again. Take calcium for example. It’s been in the news recently following the release of a recent study about calcium and heart health.

Calcium is an essential element in the human body, with many different roles, but perhaps best known as being an important component of strong healthy bones. This need for plenty of calcium in our bones has been the main reason people have taken calcium supplementation over the years. In the western diet, dairy produce has been far and away the biggest dietary source of calcium, although of course there are other calcium containing foods in our diet. For example, fish - particularly small boney fish such as sardines - and one or two surprises – think sesame seeds. For most adults, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a diet containing low fat dairy foods. It is unlikely that we will exceed the recommended allowances of calcium.

However, when it comes to calcium supplementation, it is easier to get a significant amount of calcium in a small tablet and therefore easier to end up taking too much. Usually a calcium supplement tablet contains between 500mg and 1000mg of available calcium. An approximate recommendation of suitable daily intake for women is not to exceed 1000mg and for men, 800mg. So you can see that if you do have a calcium rich diet and take a supplement on top, it is possible to exceed these amounts. Nevertheless, for those with relatively low amounts of calcium in the diet, they may well need a moderate calcium supplement to ensure bone health. The issue in relation to the heart arteries is not something that happens overnight so there is absolutely no need for any urgency or panic over this issue but it would be reasonable for anyone taking a prescription calcium supplement to discuss this with their doctor next time they have a check up. This discussion may result in them continuing on as usual or perhaps reducing their supplementation in some way.

Essentially the bones of this story are that sometimes you can have just a little too much of a good thing!