It’s never too early to think about calcium intake

People who are decades away from retirement often aren’t too concerned about their calcium intake—but a new study suggests that they should be. A review and meta-analysis from Wenzhou Medical University found that among 35-year-olds, greater calcium intake improved bone mineral density and/or bone mineral content compared to a placebo or no treatment.

Bone mass gradually increases early in life before it peaks and reaches a plateau at age 20 to 35, then begins to decline. According to the study, having a “head start” on bone health while you’re still young might pay dividends when it really matters: old age, when bone density loss is inevitable.

“Our review provides a new train of thought regarding calcium [intake] and the optimal timing of its effects,” senior author Shuran Wang stated. “In terms of bone health and an individual’s full life cycle, the intervention window of calcium [intake] should be advanced to the age around the plateau of peak bone mass – namely at 20–35 years of age.”

The researchers determined that boosting the calcium intake of the diet with less than 1,000 milligrams calcium per day improved bone mineral density or bone mineral content. Increased calcium intake was more effective among people aged 20 to 35 years than in younger individuals. Bone mineral density particularly increased in the femoral neck, the site of the majority of hip fractures.

The meta-analysis included 43 randomized, controlled trials that evaluated the effects of calcium from various sources with or without vitamin D on bone mineral density or bone mineral content in the forearm, lumbar spine, hip, femoral neck and/or total body among a total of 7,382 participants. The average age of the participants in each study ranged from 2.7 to 23.7 years. Some of the studies assessed the effects of non-food calcium sources while the remainder evaluated the impact of food sources of the mineral. The findings appeared on September 27, 2022, in the journal Elife.1


Apply What You've Learned: Osteoporosis

  • Osteoporosis, a disease characterized by weakened bones, is often thought of as a disorder of aging women; however, osteoporosis also affects men.
  • A decline in levels of the hormone estrogen is one of many potential contributing factors to osteoporosis. Other hormones, particularly testosterone in men and DHEA in women, also support bone health.2-4 Individuals concerned about bone health and osteoporosis may want to have their hormone levels evaluated.
  • Weight-bearing aerobic exercise, such as jogging, stair climbing and Tai Chi, and strength and resistance exercise with or without weights may help increase bone density in addition to providing other health benefits.5
  • Nutritional factors like calcium, magnesium, boron, vitamin D and vitamin K help support healthy bones.6-8 The Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation (formerly the National Osteoporosis Foundation) includes adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D among their universal bone health recommendations.9


  1. Liu Y et al. Elife. 2022 Sep 27;11:e79002.
  2. Mohamad NV et al. Clin Interv Aging. 2016 Sep 22;11:1317-1324.
  3. Weiss EP et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1459-67.
  4. von Mühlen D et al. Osteoporos Int. 2008 May;19(5):699-707.
  5. Benedetti MG et al. Biomed Res Int. 2018 Dec 23;2018:4840531.
  6. Aydin H et al. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2010 Feb;133(2):136-43.
  7. Pizzorno L et al. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2015 Aug;14(4):35-48.
  8. Bischoff-Ferrari HA et al. JAMA. 2005 May 11;293(18):2257-64.
  9. Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation. “BHOF's Clinician's Guide To Prevention And Treatment Of Osteoporosis. 2022 Clinician’s Guide.”

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