If I Am Going Dairy Free, Do I Need Extra Calcium?

by JJ Virgin on November 13, 2023

There’s a long-standing myth that dairy is the best place to get your calcium. So are you at risk for a deficiency if you’re intolerant to dairy? Does ditching dairy mean you need extra calcium in your diet? 

The answer to both questions is no. Let's look at how calcium relates to bone health (since that’s most likely why you’re asking). About 99% of your body’s calcium is stored in bones and teeth. The remaining amount in your bloodstream regulates various bodily functions, including muscle contraction, nerve transmission, blood clotting, and cellular communication.1  

How Calcium Supports Bone Health 

Calcium is an essential mineral crucial for maintaining strong and healthy bones throughout life. This mineral brings strength and stability to the skeletal system.  

As dynamic living tissues, bones undergo a continuous process of remodeling that breaks down old bone tissue and helps form new bone tissue. Two types of cells orchestrate this remodeling process: 

  1. Bone-resorbing cells called osteoclasts break down bone tissue and release minerals like calcium into your bloodstream.
  2. Bone-forming cells called osteoblasts help build and repair your bones.

Osteoblasts and osteoclasts play key roles in regulating calcium balance. Conversely, calcium is integral to both aspects of this process. Osteoblasts utilize calcium and other minerals to create a mineralized matrix (a hard, dense tissue that makes up the majority of bone structure) that strengthens bones. The foundational material for bone formation demands a sufficient supply of calcium.  

Osteoclasts, on the other hand, dismantle and eliminate old or damaged bone tissue. This process releases calcium from your bones, which subsequently enters your bloodstream. There, calcium contributes to muscle contraction and other functions. The unique interplay of osteoblasts and osteoclasts ensures proper calcium levels.  

Beyond its role in remodeling, calcium provides the structural integrity that allows bones to bear your body's weight, safeguard vital organs, and serve as muscle attachment points. Inadequate calcium levels make bones more vulnerable to fractures and injuries. When calcium levels are insufficient, your body might pull this mineral from your bones to maintain normal blood calcium levels, resulting in gradual bone weakening over time. 

Over time, this can lead to osteoporosis, a condition characterized by decreased bone density, increased fracture vulnerability, and compromised bone strength. Studies show that over 10 million Americans aged 50 or older have osteoporosis. About 43.3 million more people have low bone mass, which increases the risk of developing osteoporosis.2 

You Don’t Need Dairy to Get Calcium 

The Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for calcium are 1,200 milligrams (mg) for women ages 50-70 and 1,200-1,500 mg for women 71 and older.3 You should aim to meet these amounts with a combination of foods and a calcium-containing supplement.

Sufficient calcium ensures osteoblasts have the necessary raw materials to maintain bone mass and density. Well-mineralized bones are less susceptible to becoming porous and weak, reducing the risk of fractures associated with osteoporosis. If you're not consuming enough calcium, your body may draw this mineral from bones to fulfill demands like muscle contraction. Over time, this can weaken bones and contribute to osteoporosis.  

The dairy industry, fully aware that you know how essential calcium is for strong bones, cleverly promotes milk, yogurt, and other forms of dairy as ideal sources of calcium. They aren’t: One study found that female milk drinkers had a higher risk of fractures.4  

The good news is that you have lots of other calcium sources, including: 

  • Leafy greens: Vegetables like kale, collard greens, bok choy, and broccoli are rich in calcium. Arugula provides about the same amount of calcium as spinach, but this leafy green is lower in oxalates, which may inhibit calcium absorption.5 Kale is highest among leafy greens in calcium: a cup of chopped raw kale has about 53 mg of calcium.
  • Nuts and seeds: While any nut or seed provides some calcium, almonds are an excellent source: 1 oz of almonds provides about 76 mg of calcium. So are chia seeds and flax seeds. In fact, 1 oz of chia seeds provides about 179 mg of calcium. 
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas provide calcium and other essential nutrients. Chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) are especially good: a cup of cooked chickpeas contains about 80 mg of calcium.  
  • Wild-caught seafood: Canned fish with bones, such as sardines and salmon, are good sources of calcium. A 3-oz can of wild salmon with bones has about 180-210 mg of calcium. 

Even with adequate calcium from these non-dairy foods, you may not get enough of this mineral to maintain strong bones as you age. However, research shows that megadosing on cheap calcium supplements isn’t the answer, and can do more harm than good for your bones and overall health. 

The solution? Focus on non-dairy calcium-rich foods and take a multi-nutrient bone-support supplement.  

Bone Support Demands More Than Just Calcium  

While calcium is undoubtedly important for maintaining bone health, it's just one piece of an intricate puzzle. Vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium, and zinc are essential nutrients crucial in maintaining and promoting bone health. Each contributes to bone formation, maintenance, and overall skeletal integrity: 

  1. Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption. Without enough vitamin D, your body struggles to absorb calcium efficiently, leading to weakened bones and an increased risk of fractures. Vitamin D also plays a role in regulating calcium levels in the blood and supporting the function of bone-building cells.7 Adequate vitamin D levels help maintain optimal bone density and prevent osteoporosis. 
  2. Vitamin K: Vitamin K is involved in the synthesis of specific proteins in bone, including osteocalcin. Osteocalcin helps bind calcium to the bone matrix, making bones stronger and more resistant to fractures. Vitamin K also regulates calcium distribution, ensuring calcium is deposited in bones rather than soft tissues, which can contribute to health issues like arterial calcification.8 Inadequate vitamin K can compromise bone mineralization, leading to weaker bones. 
  3. Magnesium: This mineral helps activate vitamin D, essential for calcium absorption. Additionally, magnesium is a component of hydroxyapatite, a mineral complex that makes up a significant portion of bone structure. It contributes to bone density and strength by helping to form and maintain the crystalline structure of bone tissue.9 
  4. Zinc: Numerous metabolic processes related to bone health depend on this mineral. Zinc helps synthesize collagen, a protein that provides the framework for bone mineralization. Zinc also helps bone-building osteoblasts function well. Deficiencies in this mineral can hinder bone growth and development, potentially leading to bone strength and integrity issues.10 

Other Strategies to Support Strong Bones 

While bone health is undoubtedly critical at any stage of life, maintaining strong bones becomes especially important during menopause. This transition brings about hormonal changes that can impact bone density, making it crucial to adopt strategies that optimize bone health. A holistic approach can maximize bone strength and resilience. Here are the top ways to do that.  

Maintain a Healthy Weight  

Carrying excess body weight stresses your bones, particularly weight-bearing bones like those in the spine, hips, and knees. Added weight can create wear and tear on your bones and increase the risk of fractures.11 

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Manage Chronic Inflammation 

Chronic inflammation can over-activate the cells that break down bone tissue.12 This deadly, low-grade inflammation can also alter calcium regulation, negatively impacting bone density and integrity. Over time, these and other changes can lead to bone loss and an increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis.  

Wild-caught fish and freshly ground flaxseed meal are two of my favorite anti-inflammatory foods. Even then, you’ll want to take omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show can help manage inflammation and improve bone quality.13 

Omega Plus contains a highly potent, non-GMO fish oil, derived from fish oils in their natural triglyceride form (the same way they naturally occur in fish). We 100% source our fish from certified sustainable US-caught wild Alaskan Pollock. Every softgel provides an impressive 662 mg of EPA and 250 mg of DHA. That’s almost one gram of omega-3 fatty acids… in just one softgel! Most supplements demand multiple softgels to get anywhere near that amount.* 

Get Deep Sleep 

Bone health and solid, uninterrupted sleep are intricately related in several ways: 

  1. Deep sleep accelerates cellular activity and repair, repairing microdamage and allowing bones to undergo regenerative processes.14 
  2. Good sleep helps regulate numerous hormones, including your stress hormone cortisol and growth hormone (which play critical roles in bone growth and development).15  
  3. Sleep supports the proper absorption, utilization, and distribution of calcium and other minerals essential for bone health.  Research shows that poor sleep can contribute to low calcium levels.16  
  4. Muscle recovery and growth, which indirectly support bone health, also demand great sleep.  

The Optimal Sleep Kit contains three supplements (Sleep Candy™, Magnesium Body Calm, and All-In-One Shake) that help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep through the night, and wake up feeling rested.* 

Manage Stress Levels 

Chronic stress can be your worst enemy when it comes to bone health. When constantly stressed, cortisol levels can stay high when they shouldn't be. Elevated stress hormone levels can interfere with bone formation and resorption balance, potentially leading to decreased bone density. High cortisol may also increase calcium excretion, impacting bone mineralization, weakening bones, and potentially contributing to osteoporosis.17 Chronic stress can also contribute to inflammation, which increases bone loss and decreases bone density. 

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Optimize Protein Intake

A protein-first approach to every meal is among your best defense for strong bones. Optimal protein intake helps synthesize collagen, which forms the framework to deposit calcium and other minerals. Amino acids like lysine and proline contribute to collagen synthesis, while others play roles in bone mineralization and overall bone metabolism.18 

Protein also supports the constant turnover of breaking down old bone and forming new bone, called bone regeneration. Amino acids help build new bone tissue and replace damaged or old bone. 19 

Protein intake also impacts hormones essential for bone health, including insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 promotes bone growth and mineralization, helping to maintain bone density. Optimal protein indirectly benefits bone density by supporting muscle maintenance and growth.20

Lift Heavy 

With strength training, you're putting stress on your bones through resistance exercises. This stress stimulates bone remodeling, increasing bone density and supporting stronger bones resistant to fractures and injuries. When you lift heavy, muscles contract and pull on your bones, promoting denser, stronger bones over time.21  

Regular strength training can help maintain or even increase levels of hormones like estrogen, which play a significant role in bone health. By improving coordination and balance, strength training can reduce your risk of falls and related fractures. 

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Balance Your Hormones 

Hormones, including estrogen and testosterone, help maintain bone density.22 Estrogen supports the production of osteoblasts, which helps maintain bone density and structure. Lower estrogen levels during menopause can increase the rate of bone breakdown by osteoclasts without a corresponding increase in bone formation by osteoblasts. This imbalance can decrease bone density, making bones more fragile and susceptible to fractures.23 

Testosterone, on the other hand, stimulates osteoblasts to promote bone formation. Testosterone also helps regulate muscle mass and strength, indirectly supporting bone health. Lower testosterone levels can lead to decreased bone density and an increased risk of osteoporosis.24 Learn how to naturally balance these and other hormones here

Get a DEXA Scan

Monitoring your bone health is the best way to prevent fractures. A Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scan is a medical imaging technique used to measure bone density and assess bone health. This safe, non-invasive procedure provides detailed information about bone strength and density. A DEXA scan can accurately diagnose osteoporosis by measuring bone mineral density.25 

The scan results provide a T-score, which compares your bone density to that of a healthy young adult. A T-score of -2.5 or lower indicates osteoporosis. DEXA scans diagnose osteoporosis but also help predict the risk of fractures. The lower your bone density, the higher your risk of experiencing fractures, particularly in the hip, spine, and wrist.  

The younger you do this, the better. Regular scans can help track the progression of osteoporosis. Detecting low bone density early can help you take steps to improve bone health before fractures occur.  Then talk to your doctor about an ideal monitoring schedule to make sure you are not losing bone.

Beyond Calcium: A Synergistic Nutrient Approach to Bone Health 

While calcium undeniably plays a pivotal role in bone health, other factors including the right nutrient support contribute significantly to bone strength and resilience. Optimal bone health requires adequate amounts of specific bone‐supportive nutrients. Simultaneously, your bones serve as a mineral reservoir for the rest of the body. Your bones can weaken if the body extracts too many nutrients from your skeletal system.  

The solution is a multi-nutrient supplement that supports bone health. Combine these nutrients with a protein-first meal plan, strength training, and the other lifestyle factors here and you have a comprehensive plan to maintain healthy bones at any age. 

Complete Bone Support is a comprehensive daily formula that supports optimal bone strength and health. This unique, synergistic formula combines calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins D and K, along with genistein (a non-soy isoflavone) to help maintain healthy bone mineral density.* 


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The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.