Calcium and Obesity

Posted on Nov 13, 2014 in Research Highlights and Insights

A look at a recent publication:

Villarroel P et al. Calcium, obesity, and the role of the calcium-sensing receptor. Nutrition Reviews Volume 72 Issue 10, pages 627-637; October, 2014


Obesity is a world-wide problem that not only dramatically increases health costs but also causes a significant reduction in healthy life years or what I have called “healthspan”.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2015, 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese.  For many years there have been numerous published studies suggesting that there is an inverse relationship between calcium intake and obesity (weight gain and or percent fat, and body weight itself).  Obesity is a multifactorial disease and itself is associated with other conditions including dyslipidemia, metabolic syndrome (having 3 of the following 5 conditions—“large waist”, hypertension, elevated blood sugar, low HDL cholesterol, elevated triglycerides), insulin resistance and or type 2 diabetes mellitus, orthopedic “issues”, arthritis, cancer, macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, infertility, and asthma.   All but AMD, cataracts, and asthma are also associated with low dietary calcium.  Daily calcium intake also plays a major role in preventing osteoporosis in both men and women.  In the United States, a 2012 publication reported that only 1 in 4 women older than 50 years meets the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations for 1200 mg of calcium daily for adults over age 50.  The IOM recommends 1000 mg of daily calcium for adults 19-50.  And in fact, all age groups and both sexes have a significant percentage of men and women not meeting daily calcium intake recommendations.

  • In my opinion, the following statements are significant in the discussion of calcium and weight:
  • We should focus on dietary calcium > supplemental calcium when considering this relationship (this does not mean we should not take calcium supplements, and in fact my wife and I take  ½ pill daily of Nature Made Calcium, giving us 375 mg of calcium, 250 IU vitamin D3, and 20 mcg’s of vitamin K).
  • Of the 4 intervention studies that provided calcium as supplements, only 1 showed calcium to have an effect of decreasing body weight and fat mass
  • Of the 6 studies reviewed in this review article that used dairy products, 4 showed an effect of reducing fat or waist circumference
  • “Dairy calcium”, due to the food matrix in which it is found, may play some role in controlling appetite
  • High, sustained calcium consumption may play a role in the rate of fat oxidation (a good thing when considering weight control)
  • A dairy-based high calcium diet (with adequate vitamin D-adequate in my opinion results in a 25(OH) vitamin D3 level of 50-80 nanograms/ml) seems to lower oxidative stress (occurs when free radicals overwhelm our antioxidant defense mechanisms) and inflammatory biomarkers in overweight and obese subjects, as well as those in a “non-obesity” status.  Remember, excess body fat emits a number of pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemicals) and in almost all cases, inflammation occurs prior to the diagnosis of a “health issue”.  The inflammation causes by our excess “fat”, is the link between obesity and its comorbid conditions (e.g. metabolic and cardiovascular consequences of obesity).
  • At the cellular level, we have calcium-sensing receptors that seem to be involved in mechanisms related to dietary calcium and elevated body weight as well as obesity-related adipose tissue inflammation, thus offering an additional mechanism by which calcium plays a role in maintaining a healthy weight
Food Size Calcium % Calcium Absorbed
Sesame seeds 1/4 cup 351 mg unknown
Cheddar cheese 1.5 oz 303 mg 32%
Milk 8 oz 300 mg 32%
Soymilk 8 oz 300 mg 32%
Yogurt 8 oz 300 mg 32%
Tofu 1/2 cup cubed 258 mg 31 %
Rhubarb 1/2 cup chopped 174 mg 9%
Spinach 1/2 cup cooked 115 mg 5%
White beans 1/2 cup cooked 115 mg 22%
Collard greens 1/2 cup cooked 113 mg unknown
Bok choy 1/2 cup cooked 79 mg 54%
Kale 1/2 cup cooked 61 mg 49%
Orange 1 52 mg unknown
Broccoli 1/2 cup cooked 35 mg 61%

* Adapted from S Pratt SuperFoods Rx for Pregnancy (2013) and J Higdon An Evidence-Based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals (2003)

Finally, although dietary calcium will not, in the absence of many other weight “control” strategies, prevent healthspan-lowering weight gain, this article states that “with the exception of 1 study with a conclusion that was later questioned, there are NO studies with negative effects (i.e. studies that showed weight gain with calcium intake).   Instead, even though not all studies showed a significant effect, many of the outcomes were in accordance with the hypothesis (there is an inverse relationship between calcium intake and obesity), which further reinforces the conclusion that higher calcium intake is related to lower body weight and or fat”.

  • Use the table above as a guide to achieving adequate daily intakes of calcium
  • Aim for at least 2/3 of your daily intake of calcium from food