Calcium plays a role in blood pressure (BP) regulation, but the importance of supplemental calcium intake for the prevention of hypertension is still debated. We conducted a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials to determine the effect of calcium supplementation on BP. A systematic search for randomized trials of calcium supplementation and BP in non-pregnant subjects was performed in Medline from 1966 to June 2003. Seventy-one trials were identified, 40 of which met the criteria for meta-analysis (total of 2492 subjects). Two persons independently extracted data from original publications on changes in calcium intake and BP. In addition, data were collected on subjects' characteristics, that is, age, gender, initial BP and initial calcium intake. A random effects model was used to obtain the effect of calcium supplementation on BP, overall and in predefined population subgroups. Calcium supplementation (mean daily dose: 1200 mg) reduced systolic BP by -1.86 mm Hg (95% confidence interval: -2.91 to -0.81) and diastolic BP by -0.99 mm Hg (-1.61 to -0.37). In people with a relatively low calcium intake (< or =800 mg per day) somewhat larger BP estimates were obtained, that is, -2.63 (-4.03 to -1.24) for systolic BP and -1.30 (-2.13 to -0.47) for diastolic BP. Our study suggests that an adequate intake of calcium should be recommended for the prevention of hypertension. More research on BP in people with calcium-deficient diets is warranted.