Calcium supplements: too much of a good thing?

June 1, 2010

Negative health effects linked to taking too much supplemental calcium are on the rise, according to a commentary appearing in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Society Nephrology (JASN). The incidence of the so-called milk-alkali or calcium-alkali syndrome is growing in large part because of widespread use of over-the-counter calcium and vitamin D supplements.

The milk-alkali syndrome arose in the early 1900s when patients ingested abundant amounts of milk and antacids to control their ulcers. This practice increased individuals' risk of developing dangerously high levels of calcium in the blood, which could cause and even . The incidence of the milk-alkali syndrome declined when newer ulcer medications became available, but it appears to be on the rise again thanks to increased use of over-the-counter calcium and vitamin D supplements used mainly as preventive and treatment measures for osteoporosis. In many cases, patients with the syndrome require hospitalization.

Stanley Goldfarb, MD and Ami Patel, MD (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) recommend changing the name of the milk-alkali syndrome to the calcium-alkali syndrome because the condition is now associated with a large intake of calcium, not milk. Postmenopausal women, pregnant women, transplant recipients, patients with bulimia, and individuals who are on dialysis have the highest risks of developing the calcium-alkali syndrome due to various physiological reasons.

According to the authors, the obvious preventive strategy against the calcium-alkali syndrome is to limit the intake of calcium to no more than 1.2 to 1.5 grams per day. "Calcium supplements taken in the recommended amounts are not only safe but are quite beneficial. Taken to excess is the problem," said Dr. Goldfarb. "Even at the recommended dose, careful monitoring of any medication is wise and yearly determinations of blood calcium levels for those patients taking calcium supplements or vitamin D is a wise approach," he added.

Explore further: Boosting key milk nutrients may protect against cancer

More information: The commentary, entitled "Got Calcium? Welcome to the Calcium-Alkali Syndrome," doi:10.1681/ASN.2010030255 is available online.

Related Stories

Boosting key milk nutrients may protect against cancer

June 8, 2007

Key milk nutrients, calcium and vitamin D, may do more than just help keep your bones strong. Increasing intake of calcium and vitamin D could reduce the risk for cancer in women by at least 60 percent, according to a new ...

Drinking milk may help ease the pressure

February 20, 2008

Women who drank more fat free milk and had higher intakes of calcium and vitamin D from foods, and not supplements, tended to have a lower risk for developing hypertension or high blood pressure, according to a new study ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.