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Should You Take Calcium Supplements?

Jeremy Hendon | December 11
Should You Take Calcium Supplements?

I don’t like using studies or research to scare anyone into doing anything, although the study below should probably worry you just a little bit.

Elevated brain lesion volumes in older adults who use calcium supplements: a cross-sectional clinical observational study

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I’m already of the opinion that we should get as many of our nutrients (vitamins and minerals) from our foods as possible. However, I’m not opposed to supplementing where necessary or beneficial.

In the study above, researchers examined the effects of calcium supplementation (either alone or as part of a multi-mineral) on older adults. As they noted in the study, “[r]ecent studies have implicated [calcium] supplements in vascular risk elevation,” so the researchers were interested in whether calcium supplementation was also contributing to brain lesions.

Unfortunately, they found that adults who supplemented with calcium were significantly more likely to have brain lesions.

My Big Caveat

I wanted to let you know about this study because I generally think it’s better to know about research than to have it buried somewhere. However, I find the research on supplements to be generally terrible across the board.

I haven’t combed through all of the data in this study (I’m not even sure if it’s available). But supplement research tends to try to control for a lot of variables (like exercise, age, etc.). There are 2 enormous problems with doing this. First, you can never account for all variables, partially because sometimes 2 variables will have a cumulative effect greater than the 2 individual variables would have on their own.

Perhaps more importantly, controlling for variables with something like supplements is both theoretically and practically problematic. Most of the time, people who take more supplements tend to be sicker. Healthy folks just typically don’t take as many supplements. But when variables are controlled for, you actually eliminate many of the illnesses that supplements should help with.

The point is that I’d be personally concerned about supplementing with calcium. (We don’t need nearly much as advertised, particularly if you’re eating a nutrient-dense diet and have a healthy gut). But I also wouldn’t put too much faith in a study like this.

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