Calcium supplements were the subject of two large long-term studies released within in the last several months, with contradictory findings: one reported that such supplements don't really make a difference in the protection of women's bones, and the other found that they do.

The first study, released in February, by the Women's Health Initiative followed 36,000 women "Women's Health Initiative, Calcium Vitamin D Supplementation" Half of them took the recommended 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400 IU's [international Units] of vitamin D a day. The other half got a placebo.

After seven years, the group taking the calcium showed fewer bone fractures, but not fewer enough to be statistically significant, according to researchers.

The second study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine last week [April 27th], followed 1500 women over the age of 70. "Effects of Calcium Supplementation on Clinical Fracture and Bone Structure," in Archives of Internal Medicine. "

Medical analyst, Dr. Emily Senay says its findings send an important message to older women. "[In] this group, half the group got about 600 milligrams of calcium twice a day. The other group got a placebo. What they found was in the broad analysis there really was no difference between the two groups," she says. "But when they looked at the women who religiously took those pills, there was a reduction in fractures. Their bones were stronger at the end of five years, by analyzing them, by looking at x-rays."

It turns out the women who took the calcium regularly - or at least 80 percent of the time - had 40 percent fewer fractures. This does not exactly contradict the first study. The Women's Health Initiative reported a 29 percent reduction in fractures when women consistently took the supplements.

Based on these findings Senay recommends women take calcium supplements and put calcium rich foods such as low fat diary products and leafy green vegetables in their diet. She also advises working with your doctor to calculate how much calcium you are getting in your diet. "If you need to go beyond that, that is not hard to do," she says.

The recommended amount of calcium for younger women is 1,000 milligrams and for women over 50, 1200 milligrams a day. Vitamin D is recommended as well because it helps the body absorb calcium.