A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that calcium from food sources may be more effective than getting it from supplements. It found that women who get most of their daily calcium from food sources have healthier bones and greater bone density, even though those who took more supplements tended to have higher average levels of this important mineral.
Researchers asked 183 postmenopausal women to document their diet over the course of a week, after which their bone mineral density and estrogen were tested. Women who got at least 70 percent of their daily calcium from food sources instead of supplements took in the least (830 milligrams per day, on average), but higher spine and hip bone density than women consuming 1,030 milligrams per day primarily from supplement sources.
Women who got relatively even amounts from both food and supplemental sources had both the highest bone mineral density and the highest calcium intake (1,620 milligrams per day).
Calcium from dietary sources is usually more completely absorbed than from supplements, which could explain the difference. Women who got it from foods also had higher estrogen levels; estrogen is needed to maintain bone mineral density. The connection between dietary calcium and estrogen is as yet unknown, although it could be the result of eating plant sources containing the hormone.
Those who got calcium from food sources might have also taken in more vitamin D, which would aid in calcium absorption.
This study bears out what common sense would tell you: getting calcium from food is far better than getting it from a pill. But for many of us common sense is not very common and we seek to maximize our convenience and swallow our vitamins and minerals conveniently rather than focus on receiving them from high quality supplements.
Ah, if life were just that easy that simply swallowing a few pills would solve our nutritional needs. While supplements of course can be useful, they should be viewed just as that, supplements to a high quality diet that is used in addition to not in place of a high quality diet.
As often happens when it comes to food, quality is more important than quantity; even though the women taking supplements had higher average levels of calcium, the women who get it from food had stronger bones. Calcium from food is simply better absorbed and utilized by your body than synthetic calcium from a pill.
The best food source of calcium out there is that from raw milk (NOT conventional, pasteurized milk) and other raw dairy products. Dark green, leafy vegetables are another great source of calcium. Of course, it’s not just calcium that you’re better off getting from whole foods, it’s all nutrients. Your best choice is always to favor getting nutrients the way nature intended.
Vitamin D is also important for calcium absorption, so along with your raw milk and vegetables, make sure that you are getting plenty of safe sun exposure, or if that is not an option use a safe tanning bed. The last resort would be a vitamin D3 supplement, but you will need to monitor your levels if you choose this route. Because of vitamin D’s role in calcium absorption, adequate vitamin D levels help to prevent osteoporosis and hip fractures.
You should also remember that, just as exercise and diet work in tandem to beat obesity, the same can be said for osteoporosis. Strengthening bone mass, especially during puberty, can build a good foundation that can last a lifetime. In fact, there is a stronger connection between exercise and improved bone density among teens than taking calcium. Finally, make sure your diet contains healthy levels of high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil, which are the stealth dietary weapon in preserving your bone density. Even many nutritionists are not aware of the important relationship between healthy bones and optimal fat intake.