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May 12, 2022
Does Calcium Actually Strengthen Your Bones? Here's How to Actually Boost Your Bone Density
Is calcium actually good for your bones?
That’s certainly what we’ve always been told, right?
Maybe you’ve taken your calcium supplements every day for years, but your bone density hasn’t improved much. In fact, maybe your bone density has even gone DOWN.
You’re doing everything you’re supposed to do, so what’s the deal?
As it turns out, calcium isn’t actually so great at strengthening your bones.
Whatsmore, those supplements come with drawbacks when taken in high doses, like an increased risk of heart attack or stroke (3).
Luckily, there’s another natural ingredient that actually succeeds at strengthening your bones: Collagen. And unlike calcium supplements, it doesn’t come with an increased health risk.
The Decline of Bone Health with Age
Before we dig into the differences between calcium and collagen, let’s explore why bone health is so important in the first place.
So, why does your risk of bone loss increase with age?
Well, by the time you reach menopause, your body has lost a significant amount of collagen—a protein that makes up the majority of your bone structure (8).
Collagen is crucial to the health of your bones, joints, skin, and more, but your natural levels start to decline as early as your 20s.
And what makes matter worse is that by the age of 35, your bones begin breaking down faster than your body can build them back up (9).
With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that women are regularly encouraged to keep tabs on their bone density as they age.
But one of the tools most commonly believed to help preserve bone density—calcium—isn’t as effective as we once thought. In fact, regularly drinking milk could actually increase your risk of bone fractures (2, 10).
How could all those dairy-friendly ad campaigns go wrong? Let’s explore what calcium actually is, versus what many of us thought it was.
What Is Calcium—Really?
Calcium is a mineral that plays a big role in your body’s everyday systems, including blood clotting, muscle functions, heart rhythms, and more (11).
The body doesn’t create calcium on its own, so we have to seek it out through food or supplements. Calcium is found in leafy greens, certain fish, and most famously, dairy products. Some foods that don’t naturally contain calcium, like some soy products, cereals, and juice, are fortified with the nutrient.
Calcium is also regularly associated with bone health. Throughout our lives, our bones are continually regenerating and replacing themselves with newer, healthier bone cells in a process called bone remodeling (12, 13). At certain phases of life, calcium is especially important to this process (14).
But despite the role calcium plays in bone health overall, it is not the supplement to reach for to protect bone density. In fact, it may not protect you from bone fractures at all…
Does Calcium Really Protect Your Bones?
We’ll cut to the chase here: No. Calcium does not protect your bones the way it should.
Despite the cliches we’ve heard our entire lives about drinking milk for strong bones…
Despite the widespread PSAs encouraging kids to load up on dairy…
Despite the millions of calcium supplements taken every year…
Calcium isn’t the bone density superhero we once thought it was.
Recent study analyses indicate that increasing the calcium in your diet has nothing more than a minimal impact on bone density in older age, and that it doesn’t even reduce fractures in people who are over 50 (1, 2).
And while calcium may help slow the rate of bone loss to some degree, it will not prevent it. Because calcium is not absorbed as well by the body as you age, increasing the amount of calcium you consume might not even make much of a difference (15).
Some data even indicates that milk could increase your risk of bone fractures (10). Even more striking is the fact that parts of the world with lower dietary intakes of dairy and calcium have lower osteoporosis rates (16)!
And then there are the calcium supplements…
These wildly popular tablets and chews are frequently recommended to women who are concerned about their bone health—but they don’t come without risks. Taking 1,000mg or more of calcium from supplements is linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, stomach symptoms, and kidney stones (3).
And while supplements do have a short-term effect on your bone density, it doesn’t last. There is no evidence of supplements providing cumulative benefits for your bone density, and studies have found that it does not reduce the occurrence of fractures even when taken for up to seven years (17, 18).
So how did we end up with such confusion over calcium?
Many experts believe it started in the early 90s when a study of elderly women in France was published and took on a life of its own (19). The average age of the study participants was 84.
These women were not getting much calcium in their daily diets, had a low bone density, and lived in assisted living facilities. The study followed the effects of calcium and vitamin D supplements on these women, and the results showed a lowered risk of hip fracture and a slight increase in bone density.
So why haven’t we seen equally promising results in research that’s taken place since then?
Some experts believe that it’s because the group studied was already calcium deficient and particularly sedentary—and that a healthy, active person who is not starting out with a calcium deficiency would not benefit in the same way from increasing their intake (19, 20).
But instead of the study taking its place in history as one interesting—but mostly isolated—set of results, it somehow became legendary. We likely have that study to thank for the widespread calcium myths that our culture is just now starting to see through.
So the cat’s out of the bag: Calcium is not the end-all-be-all for bone health. It’s one small piece of a larger puzzle. Getting enough calcium is still beneficial for keeping your body’s overall functions running smoothly and staving off bone issues like rickets or osteomalacia, but it’s not the holy grail.
The Better Bone-Health Alternative
As early as your 20s, your body’s natural collagen production starts to decline, and one of the ways this manifests is in the decline of bone density. By the time you’re 50, your levels of this bone-building block are 50% of what they once were (23).
This is where a high-quality collagen supplement comes into play.
Unlike calcium supplements, grass-fed collagen supplements are effective at replenishing the natural bone-building blocks your body has lost, along with replenishing bone density and preventing—and even reversing—bone loss (24, 25).
Oh, and that joint pain you’ve been feeling since menopause hit? Collagen can help with that too (26).
As a natural supporter of joint health, collagen can help alleviate your aches and pains (29).
In short, it does everything we thought calcium did…and even more.
How to Take Collagen for Bones
Taking collagen is easy: Just switch out your daily calcium routine for a daily dose of collagen powder. You can do this by mixing it with your morning coffee or tea, baking with it, or blending it into your smoothie.
The best collagen for bone health is the kind that fits into your routine. So whether you drink collagen before sleep or use it to jump-start your day, incorporate it into a meal or beverage that you look forward to.
Different types of health concerns call for different doses of collagen. But regardless of why you’re supplementing with collagen—whether it’s for glowing skin, renewed energy, bone health, or anything else—we recommend starting your collagen journey in two phases…
First, you’ll start with a Collagen Loading Phase, and then move into a Collagen Maintenance Phase.
Collagen Loading consists of taking 20 to 40 grams of collagen daily for 4 to 8 weeks. From there, you can move into the Collagen Maintenance Phase, in which your daily dose will depend on your health goals…
If you’re taking collagen for bone health, your Maintenance Phase will consist of taking 30 to 40 grams of collagen daily, indefinitely. If you’re taking collagen for skin, nails, or hair health, a daily dose of 20 grams should be sufficient.
Within the first two months, you can expect to feel a decrease in aches and pains and a renewed spring in your step (30).
As the months go on, your results will multiply, and your bone density will see peak collagen benefits within a year (31).
The Bottom Line
Calcium may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but collagen sure is…
Unlike calcium’s subpar bone support, collagen can actively prevent bone density loss and replenish what you’re missing (32).
My recommendation? Swap out that glass of milk and start supplementing with collagen powder for your bones instead. If you’re a chocolate milk lover, add a scoop of this Chocolate Collagen Powder to a glass of unsweetened nut milk. Voila—a healthy, bone-loving alternative!
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.