Role of dietary calcium and dairy products in modulating adiposity

Lipids. 2003 Feb;38(2):139-46. doi: 10.1007/s11745-003-1044-6.


Dietary calcium plays a pivotal role in the regulation of energy metabolism. High-calcium diets attenuate adipocyte lipid accretion and weight gain during overconsumption of an energy-dense diet and increase lipolysis and preserve thermogenesis during caloric restriction, thereby markedly accelerating weight loss. Our studies of the agouti gene demonstrate a key role for intracellular Ca2+ in regulating adipocyte lipid metabolism and TG storage. Increased intracellular Ca2+ resulting in stimulation of lipogenic gene expression, and lipogenesis and suppression of lipolysis resulting in adipocyte lipid filling and increased adiposity. Moreover, we recently demonstrated that the increased calcitriol produced in response to low-calcium diets stimulates adipocyte Ca2+ influx and, consequently, promotes adiposity. Accordingly, suppressing calcitriol levels by increasing dietary calcium is an attractive target for obesity intervention. In support of this concept, transgenic mice expressing the agouti gene specifically in adipocytes (a human-like pattern) respond to low-calcium diets with accelerated weight gain and fat accretion, whereas high-calcium diets markedly inhibit lipogenesis, accelerate lipolysis, increase thermogenesis, and suppress fat accretion and weight gain in animals maintained at identical caloric intakes. Further, low-calcium diets impede body fat loss, whereas high-calcium diets markedly accelerate fat loss in transgenic mice subjected to caloric restriction. Dairy sources of calcium exert markedly greater effects in attenuating weight and fat gain and accelerating fat loss. This augmented effect of dairy products is likely due to additional bioactive compounds in dairy that act synergistically with calcium to attenuate adiposity. These concepts are confirmed by both epidemiological and clinical data, which demonstrate that increasing dietary calcium results in significant reductions in adipose tissue mass in obese humans in the absence of caloric restriction and markedly accelerates the weight and body fat loss secondary to caloric restriction, whereas dairy products exert significantly greater effects. These data indicate an important role for dairy products in both the prevention and treatment of obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Agouti Signaling Protein
  • Animals
  • Calcitriol / metabolism
  • Calcium, Dietary / pharmacology*
  • Dairy Products*
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism


  • Agouti Signaling Protein
  • Calcium, Dietary
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Calcitriol