Calcium intake in health maintenance - a systematic review

  • Kirsti Uusi-Rasi
  • Merja U.M. Kärkkäinen
  • Christel J.E. Lamberg-Allardt
Keywords: Calcium intake, calcium requirements, disease prevention, osteoporosis, bone mineral density, health maintenance, health outcomes


Background: Calcium (Ca) is an essential nutrient for the human body. Despite lively research, there is uncertainty about Ca requirements in terms of desirable health outcomes including an upper intake level above which the potential for harm increases.

Objectives: The aim was to conduct a review to update requirements and desirable or harmful health effects of Ca on the current scientific evidence.

Methods:We searched Medline and Swemed from January 2000 to December 2011 and included all systematic reviews that reported Ca supplementation or usual Ca intake on health outcomes. Meta-analyses, randomized clinical trials and cohort studies were included in the second search between May 2009 and March 2011 and an additional search covering studies till the end of 2011. This review concentrated on studies reporting independent effects of Ca, although a few recent trials report sole effects of Ca on health outcomes, most trials use Ca in combination with vitamin D vs. placebo.

Results: In total, we reviewed 38 studies addressing the effects of Ca on bone, pregnancy-related outcomes, cancers, cardiovascular outcomes, obesity, and mortality. There was a lot of heterogeneity in the study protocols, which made it difficult to draw any strong conclusions. According to the literature, high Ca intake seems to have a small positive effect on bone mineral content (BMC) or bone mineral density (BMD) in children and postmenopausal women. We did not find any consistent evidence on the effects of Ca on bone health in premenopausal women or men. Also, the evidence that Ca supplementation reduces fracture incidence is scarce and inconsistent. Maternal diet may influence the peak bone mass of offspring but more studies are required. There was no overall effect of Ca intake on cancers. Ca was associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer and a slightly increased risk of prostate cancer in two of the three studies. No associations were found with other cancers. We found no consistent association between cardiovascular outcomes and Ca intake except for blood pressure. A small decrease of 2-4 mmHg in systolic blood pressure was found in pregnant and in hypertensive subjects with Ca supplementation. Reviewed studies did not show consistent evidence relating Ca intake to either mortality or obesity.

Conclusion: Based on this evidence, there is no need to change the Nordic recommendations for Ca intake. However, due to heterogeneity in the studies it is difficult to interpret the results and provide single summary statement.

Keywords: Calcium intake; calcium requirements; disease prevention; osteoporosis; bone mineral density; health maintenance; health outcomes

(Published: 16 May 2013)

Citation: Food & Nutrition Research 2013. 57: 21082 -

Special Issue: This paper is part of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations - The NNR5 project. More papers from this issue can be found at


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How to Cite
Uusi-Rasi K., Kärkkäinen M. U., & Lamberg-Allardt C. J. (2013). Calcium intake in health maintenance - a systematic review. Food & Nutrition Research.
Nordic Nutrition Recommendations - The NNR5 project