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Calcium Supplements for Cancer Survivors

Ask the Nutritionist

Q: I am 53 year old breast cancer survivor. I am so confused about calcium supplementation. After having a baseline bone density test, I was told that I have osteopenia. After researching, I have discovered that I should not take calcium supplements that exceed 600-700mg and that I need to take vitamin D, K and magnesium with it. What is your opinion?

Cindy, West Islip, New York, 2013

A: Calcium supplementation has been very controversial and there still isn't a consensus on the matter. Although we know calcium is important for healthy bones, muscle and nerve function and even blood clotting, the healthcare community cannot agree on how much is necessary.

In general, calcium supplementation is probably not required for people without increased calcium losses. In fact, some studies have shown that too much calcium could increase the risk of kidney stones and bone fractures.

The most important things for bones are calcium, vitamin D and resistance exercise in concert. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and decreasing excretion. Resistance exercise places a positive stress on the bones that strengthen them. Vitamin K can also play a role in slowing osteoporosis. The body needs enough calcium so it doesn’t steal from bone calcium and post-menopausal women need 200 mg more of calcium per day (1200mg).

Calcium is best absorbed in dosages of 500-600 mg and under. We recommend avoiding any supplements with doses larger than that at one time. You should aim to be getting your recommended total of 1000-1200mg of calcium through diet and supplements.

Some brands tested and approved by ConsumerLabs:

  • CVS Pharmacy Natural Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc
  • Nature Made Calcium 750 mg+D+K
  • Viactiv Calcium Plus D (chocolate chews)
  • Member's Mark Calcium 600 mg with Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin Shoppe Calcium Citrate plus Magnesium and Vitamin D

Examples of calcium-rich foods:

  • 1 cup raw broccoli: 90 mg
  • 1 cup cooked kale: 94 mg
  • 1 cup cooked collard greens: 266 mg
  • 1 cup non-fat milk: 300 mg
  • 1 cup low-fat, plain yogurt: 300 mg
  • 1.5 ounces shredded cheese: 306 mg

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  • Ask the Nutritionist

    • Do you have questions about making healthy food choices during and after cancer treatment? Our team of nutrition experts can help. Submit your question through our Ask the Nutritionist form.
    • To create a customized plan, please schedule an appointment with a Dana-Farber nutritionist by calling 617-632-3006.
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