K-State research shows calcium supplements not always beneficial for postmenopausal women
By Levi Wolters
A study by a Kansas State University researcher shows that calcium supplementation doesn't always lead to stronger bones in postmenopausal women. However, Mark Haub, associate professor of human nutrition, said he still thinks it's important for women of all ages to make sure they are getting enough calcium.
"Supplements are a lot like insurance," Haub said. "There is not a guarantee that you are preventing something -- nobody knows what's going to happen -- but there is little evidence that they do harm when taken at recommended doses."
His research, published in Nutrition Journal in 2005 with Haub as the lead author, found that 12 months of supplementation with a calcium-fortified beverage had minimal effect on body composition and bone density in active postmenopausal women.
"We saw no difference, and I was kind of shocked," Haub said. "The thinking is that the older you get, the more rapid the bone loss, and because the bones are the storage site for calcium, you can simply replace the lost calcium with food or supplements. It isn't that easy."
Though not published, the research also included college-age women who took the supplement. Again, no strong evidence supported the supplement.
However, the research also noted its subjects were consuming higher-than-normal amounts of calcium prior and during use of the supplement. According to Haub, this may be because women are more aware of the importance of restoring calcium. Had the women not consumed as much additional calcium, Haub speculates they would have likely observed different outcomes with supplementation.
Haub said calcium is still an important nutrient and calcium-fortified beverages or dairy products may help women of any age to help regulate body composition and bone density.
"Many young females try to avoid milk because they think it's fattening; it's not," Haub said. "Milk is a good source of protein, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, phosphorous and riboflavin. In addition, it has a low glycemic index." A low glycemic index means milk doesn't raise blood glucose levels much after consuming it -- an important dietary concept for diabetics or anyone watching their sugar levels.
Haub said when used correctly, calcium supplements would not hurt users; it just might not benefit them the way the wish.
"I think one thing to do before beginning to take a supplement is to get a diet analysis done," Haub said. "It's a good starting point to determine whether any deficiencies exist. You may find you're already eating adequate amounts and therefore it might not be of much benefit."