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Calcium Supplements in Kids Overrated?

Children Who Get Calcium-Fortified Foods or Pills Don't Develop Stronger Bones, Study Shows

Kids Need Calcium continued...

The Winzenberg analysis found that calcium supplements didn't have an effect, even in kids who were getting too little calcium in their diets. But only three of the studies included in the analysis included kids getting less than 500 milligrams of calcium a day.

"If a child is getting up to 600 milligrams to 800 milligrams of calcium a day, giving more will not help," Heaney says. "So if a child is in that range, I would predict a study would not find any improvement from calcium supplements."

Andrew Shao, PhD, is vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement-industry trade group. He says that though the Winzenberg group did a thorough analysis of the clinical data, its conclusions are based on giving calcium supplements for a relatively short time.

"One thing that hasn't been done in clinical trials is looking at long-term calcium supplements over the years where peak bone mass is achieved," Shao says. "That is the most critical piece of evidence missing here."

Indeed, Winzenberg and colleagues do stressstress the need for long-term studies of calcium supplements in children in their peak bone-building years.

Getting Calcium Naturally

A major source of calcium is dairy foods. In a written statement, the National Dairy Council tells WebMD it isn't surprised by the study findings.

"Supplements don't measure up to milk and dairy foods when it comes to nutrition," the NDC says. "In addition to being an excellent source of calcium, milk provides vitamin D, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are essential for optimal bone health and human development."

Still, some kids don't get enough of these essential nutrients. Might supplements help? Yes, says Heaney.

"Food sources of calcium have to be preferred overwhelmingly," he says. "But that is not to condemn supplements. Well-formulated supplements will allow you to absorb as much calcium in milk or in calcium-fortified orange juice."

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