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The Milk Calcium Myth: Should You Really be Drinking Milk for Stronger Bones?

How many times have you been told to drink milk for strong, healthy bones?

If you’re reading this blog post, it has probably been hundreds. Much of this influence came from the Got Milk? marketing campaign that swept the nation in 1995.

But is this claim of “more milk = stronger bones” actually true?

We did the research, and what we found was quite surprising. It turns out that calcium isn’t the end-all be-all solution for bone health.

In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into whether or not calcium is good for your bones, the pros and cons of calcium supplements, and three (better) ways to strengthen your bones.

Is Calcium Actually Good for Bones?

Calcium is a nutrient with several functions: moderating muscle functions, heart rhythms, hormones, and more (1).

Over 99% of your body’s calcium content is found in the bones and teeth. (It’s the hard tissue that calcium provides that keeps your bones and teeth strong and sturdy (2).)

Here’s the catch, though: Studies show that calcium doesn’t reduce the risk of fractures—particularly in people over 50 (3, 4). This explains why Americans drink more milk than any other country in the world, yet have the highest rates of osteoporosis (5, 6).

Calcium may be able to slow the rate of bone loss temporarily, but it doesn’t prevent it. And because your body can’t absorb calcium as well with age, increasing your calcium intake likely won’t make enough of an impact to reap those minimal benefits (7). Some data even indicates that milk could even increase your risk of fractures (8).

The hype around calcium appears to be mostly connected to just one study that was conducted on a small group of elderly women in the early 90s (9). These women experienced a boost in bone health when their calcium intake increased. The problem? Studies conducted since then haven’t reached similar results. Many experts believe this is because the original group that was studied was notably calcium deficient and lived sedentary lives, so they were already starting at a deficit (10).

From this point of view, it makes sense why researchers haven’t been able to replicate the results in a group of average, healthy adults who are already getting enough calcium. But unfortunately, the myth snowballed, and now many take it as fact.

Do You Really Need Calcium Supplements?

For a product so widely used, calcium supplements aren’t as well understood as you might think.

Do you actually need calcium supplements?

Your body doesn’t make calcium on its own, but that doesn’t mean the only way to get it is through a supplement. Calcium can be found in plenty of foods like dairy products, dark green vegetables, white beans, and sardines.

Do calcium supplements work?

There is little evidence that calcium supplements actually strengthen your bones and teeth.

They tend to have a short-term effect on your bone density, but those perks don’t stick around. There is no evidence that calcium supplements have a cumulative positive effect on your bone density.

In 2012, an analysis found that consuming excess calcium past the regular dietary guideline (which usually comes from supplements) offered no boost to hip or lumbar bone density in older adults (5). Research has also found that even after as long as seven years of taking the supplements, they do not reduce your risk of bone fracture (11, 12). In fact, one 2007 study even found that calcium supplements may increase your odds of hip fracture (13).

Are calcium supplements safe?

Calcium supplements do come with health concerns.

Studies have found that an intake of 1,000 mg or more of calcium from supplements may increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, colon polyps (which can become cancerous), kidney stones, and a build-up of calcium in the heart’s arteries (14, 15, 16, 17, 18).

Some experts believe that taking vitamin D with your calcium supplement could help neutralize some of those risks, but more research is needed before we know for sure (19).

In some extreme cases, taking too much calcium could even cause calcium deposits in your blood, also called hypercalcemia (20).

Calcium supplements also sometimes have side effects like gas, constipation, and bloating–which could be an indication that your calcium intake is too high.

Should I stop taking calcium supplements?

With few documented benefits, and several potential risks, the best move for most people is to stop taking calcium supplements.

3 Ways to Actually Strengthen Your Bones (Without Calcium)

If calcium won’t help strengthen your bones, what will? Here are some options that will actually help.

1. Supplement With Collagen

As you age, your body’s collagen production decreases, and so does your bone density. By the time you hit age 60, your collagen levels are 50% lower than they used to be (21).

Since collagen is an essential building block of your bones (and makes up 90% of their structure), supplements like NativePath Collagen Peptides can help rebuild the bone density you’ve lost (22, 23, 24, 25, 26). They can also help prevent further bone loss (27, 28). And because collagen boosts joint health, it can also help soothe aches and pains (29).

2. Get the Right Vitamins

Vitamin K and Vitamin D can help strengthen your bones naturally.

Vitamin D is found in certain foods, but most people get it through exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D plays a powerful role in bone health, and helps your body better absorb calcium to reap the benefits calcium does provide (30).

Vitamin D also plays a role in bone growth and helps maintain your body’s phosphate levels, keeping your bones strong. When your vitamin D levels are low, your risk of osteoporosis increases (31). Vitamin K, on the other hand, can help your body create proteins that are important to bone building. Low levels of vitamin K increase your risk of fractures and low bone density (32).

Supplements like NativePath’s Vitamin D3 + K2 Tincture can help you ensure you’re getting enough.

3. Focus on Targeted Exercises

Certain types of exercise are especially great at building bone strength.

Weight-bearing exercise, like walking, hiking, tennis, or the stair climber are great ways to help prevent bone density loss (33). Resistance training with weights, resistance bands, and body weight workouts are bone strength builders too.

The best thing about bone-friendly workouts is that along with lowering your fracture risk, they make daily life easier. You’ll have an easier time lifting things around the house, and have more energy for things like long hours in the garden or keeping up with grandkids.

The Bottom Line

Despite what you’ve been told, calcium isn’t the key to bone health. Calcium doesn’t help reduce fractures in people over 50. It may temporarily help slow bone loss, but it doesn’t prevent it (3, 4). There is no evidence that calcium supplements provide a cumulative positive effect on bone density at all. Instead of relying on calcium for bone health, utilize weight-bearing exercise and supplements like collagen peptides and vitamin D3 and K2.

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.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557683/ 

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56060/

  3. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/doi/10.1136/bmj.h4580 

  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30909722/ 

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4784773/

  6. https://ajcn.nutrition.org/article/S0002-9165(23)12559-7/fulltext

  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17720017/ 

  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31030420/

  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1331788/

  10. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-well-does-calcium-intake-really-protect-your-bones-201509308384

  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26174589/ 

  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29677309/

  13. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/6/1780.full

  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6276611/ 

  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20671013 

  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29496722/

  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16481635/

  18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27729333/

  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19394167

  20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26239247/ 

  21. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1672370/

  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5335887/

  23. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21855-osteopenia

  24. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1634122/ 

  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4989561/

  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2577747/

  27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793325/ 

  28. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21927918/ 

  29. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18416885/ 

  30. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/ 

  31. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30335299/ 

  32. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11684396/

  33. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6323511/

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Medical Disclaimer
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.