Boning Up on Calcium May Help Prevent Weight Gain, Says Research


Calcium to help keep weight off or even lose weight? Curious as that may sound, several studies have hinted at this.

Less Weight From More Calcium. In a study of 54 women under age 30 within the typical weight range, investigators from Purdue University found that those with the highest calcium intake?mostly from dairy?gained less weight and body fat over two years than those getting the least calcium, regardless of how much they exercised. The link, however, was seen only in those who ate fewer calories than average, suggesting that calcium may give you a dieting edge, but only if you don’t overeat. The researchers predicted that if the women had gotten 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, they would have lost more than two pounds in two years.

Ageless Results. Additional evidence comes from Robert Heaney, M.D., and his colleagues at Creighton University’s Osteoporosis Research Center in Omaha. They reevaluated data from five studies over 12 years, totaling 780 women in their 30’s, 50’s and 70’s. In all three age groups, the highest calcium intake (again, mostly from dairy) was linked to lower weight. Among younger women, those getting less than 660 milligrams of calcium were more than twice as likely to be overweight as those getting more than that.

Furthermore, the middle-aged women who met calcium recommendations showed no weight change, compared to an increase of one pound each year in middle-aged women getting too little calcium. Meeting calcium needs, Heaney suggests, might help prevent the 20 pounds women often gain between the ages of 40 and 60. In research to be published in June, he will conclude that the weight gain straddling menopause is not due to a change in hormone levels. Inadequate calcium intake could be one explanation instead, as could low muscle mass (see EN, April 2001).

A Logical Explanation. Some experts believe a low calcium intake causes hormonal changes that trigger cells to switch from fat breakdown to fat production. It’s also possible that something other than calcium in dairy foods is responsible.

The Bottom Line. Meeting current calcium recommendations for bone health may fortuitously help you maintain a healthy body weight. But be realistic. If calcium gives you an advantage, it’s probably a slight one. Many factors?how many calories you eat, how much you exercise and your genetic predisposition’still strongly influence your propensity to gain weight over the years.

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