A new study published in the medical journal Heart suggests that people taking calcium supplements had a significantly greater chance of having a heart attack. Should you quit supplementing?
Calcium supplements, calcium-rich foods and heart health
The study tracked nearly 24,000 German men and women over an 11-year period. The participants were involved in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, which required participants to record their diet and vitamin and supplement intake. The researchers found that participants who took calcium supplements had an 86 percent greater chance of having a heart attack. However, people with naturally high calcium intake through foods, like milk and cheese, tended to have a lower risk of heart attack.
Caution on calcium supplements
Researchers suspect that the sudden surge of calcium into the system from calcium supplements may be linked to the increased risk of heart attack because the mineral, along with cholesterol and other substances, contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries). The sudden increase of calcium in the body increases the chances it will end up in the plaques lining the arteries. “Calcium is an important mineral,” Sabine Rohrmann, Ph.D., the senior author of the new study and an epidemiologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, told CNN. “However, we probably do not need mega-doses of calcium, and the current recommendation can be met by a balanced diet that includes (low-fat) milk and dairy products.”
Calcium recommendations for women >>
What about bone health?
Women are often prescribed calcium supplements to ward off osteoporosis or osteopenia. While the serving/dose per capsule or tablet per brand will vary, experts recommend taking no more than 500 milligrams of supplemental calcium at one time and to take it with food. The brands we reviewed had 500 to 600 milligrams per serving, recommending two servings per day. It’s important to note that a supplement’s serving recommendation does not take into account a consumer’s dietary calcium and that getting too much calcium (more than 2,500 milligrams per day) can lead to health problems, such as high blood levels of calcium and kidney problems.
Researchers suggest getting your calcium through food sources, since dietary calcium is slowly absorbed by the body while calcium supplements cause a “flooding” effect in the blood, which may be the reason behind the increase in heart attack risk. They warn that supplemental calcium is not a “low-cost panacea” for preventing bone loss and to view calcium as an important component of a balanced diet. In other words, it’s better to bone up on calcium through your diet for your bone health than to rely on calcium supplements that can increase your risk for heart disease.
The findings of this study are highly controversial and some medical professionals disagree with the message the researchers are giving the public. Dr. Taylor Wallace, senior director of scientific and regulatory affairs for the US Council for Responsible Nutrition, told Fox News that this study contradicts previous studies and that consumers shouldn’t just drop their calcium supplements. He said, “Our advice is for consumers to be aware of how much calcium they get from their diet, supplement with calcium if needed and check with their doctor or other health care practitioner to determine their own personal needs.”