Calcium reduces colorectal cell turnover and might therefore protect against neoplasia. The inhibitory effects of dietary calcium were tested in a double-blind controlled trial in patients with familial adenomatous polyposis who had undergone previous abdominal colectomy and ileorectal anastomosis. Patients received supplemental calcium carbonate (1500 mg/day) or placebo tablets for 6 months; sigmoidoscopy was performed before and after treatment. Rectal biopsies were maintained in short-term organ culture, and crypt cell production rate (CCPR) was measured stathmokinetically. A total of 25 patients completed the trial; polyp counts were obtained before and after treatment in all and CCPR values in 16. Calcium treatment reduced the mean (s.e.m.) CCPR from 4.72 (0.48) to 2.42 (0.48) cells per crypt per h (P < 0.05), while values for placebo were unchanged (5.46 (1.21) versus 5.08 (1.17) cells per crypt per h). Calcium had no demonstrable effect on the number, size or distribution of rectal polyps. The ability of oral calcium supplementation to suppress rectal epithelial proliferation supports its potential to prevent development of colorectal carcinoma in high-risk individuals.