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Taking calcium supplements or eating more foods with calcium doesn’t help your bones, studies find

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some people, especially older women, still take calcium supplements in hopes of preventing brittle or broken bones. They may also eat extra foods high in calcium. But does either help? No, according to two new studies that reviewed previous research in women and men over age 50.

The first study looked at increasing calcium intake from diet or supplements. That produced only a one to two percent increase in bone mineral density, leading researchers to say it's unlikely to lead to a reduction in fractures. The other study found no evidence that increasing calcium in your diet prevents fractures.

"I do think a balanced diet is very important and if you can tolerate dairy products, I think a couple of servings a day of dairy are good. And for most women, we don't need to go beyond that," said Dr. Michelle Orr, an endocrinologist with North Kansas City Hospital.

As for calcium supplements, the specialist says she no longer routinely recommends them even though she knows some other doctors do.

"If something's not helping, why in the world would we take it? But there have been studies out that show in women over the age of 60, an increased risk of coronary artery disease," said Dr. Orr.

More hardening of the arteries was found in women who took calcium supplements although it was only an association and not proven that the supplements caused the hardening.

Dr. Orr says there are select few people who should be on calcium supplements.

"If a woman has active osteoporosis and is under treatment for that, the recommendations for calcium supplementation are a little different and we still need to supplement some of those folks."

Otherwise, she said, skip the supplements and eat a balanced diet with no extra focus on foods with calcium.

The studies are in the journal BMJ. So what else can you do to strengthen bone? Do exercise that's weight-bearing such as running, walking or playing tennis.