New Study: Calcium Supplements & Increased Risk of Heart Attacks?

August 11, 2011 4 min read

New Study: Calcium Supplements & Increased Risk of Heart Attacks?

Here we go again, another study to confuse everyone. The following study was published July 29, 2010 in the British Medical Journal. Following is an excerpt of the abstract.

Effect of calcium supplements on risk of myocardial infraction and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis

Conclusions Calcium supplements (without co-administered vitaminD) are associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction.As calcium supplements are widely used, these modest increasesin risk of cardiovascular disease might translate into a largeburden of disease in the population. A reassessment of the roleof calcium supplements in the management of osteoporosis iswarranted.

Considering the available evidence, they wrote, "patients with osteoporosis should generally not be treated with calcium supplements, either alone or combined with vitamin D, unless they are also receiving an effective treatment for osteoporosis for a recognized indication."

This type of study underscores the lack of understanding that many researchers seem to have regarding basic nutrition. First, this study looked only at calcium intake. The calcium intake included those who were taking over 500 mg daily. Calcium should never be taken alone; in fact, it is very important to take magnesium to balance out calcium intake. The researchers should know that too much calcium taken in isolation can impact magnesium and cause a deficiency of this vital mineral. The other issue is that most people who take calcium supplements take it in the form of calcium carbonate, which is not the best choice for calcium as I will later explain.

I am also concerned about calcium supplementation, but for a different reason. Taking a supplement that is high in calcium overloads the system– too much calcium has the potential to harm arteries, especially with the SAD diet (Standard American Diet). Let’s think about it for a moment. The SAD diet creates inflammation throughout the body and leads to chronic acidity and chronic inflammation due to too much sugar and processed carbohydrates. Now get this– calcium is attracted to areas of inflammation. In fact, you may have noticed this in your personal life if you’ve ever smacked a fingernail hard and sometime later a white spot (calcium) appears.

Over the past several years, excitement has been mounting over vitamin D and correcting vitamin D deficiency. As many of you know I am in the final process of finishing my book, Don’t Get Burned, Exposing the Myths about Skin Cancer, Vitamin D and Sunbathing. I too am excited about vitamin D, and one of the main actions that vitamin D is known for is increasing calcium and phosphorus absorption by a whopping 50%. So now in addition to taking calcium supplements, people are also absorbing much more calcium from taking vitamin D. Where is all the calcium going? I am concerned that for some it may very well wind up in soft tissues of the body, such as the arteries and joints, and the calcification of the arteries increases the chance of heart disease. This is why it is so important to analyze each individual’s daily intake of calcium starting with his or her diet.

If you have osteoporosis or want to avoid it, eat a nutrient dense diet and stay away from the nutrient robbers – soft drinks, sugar, processed carbohydrates. Eat real food!

Here are a few tips regarding calcium supplementation:

  1. Keep a diet diary. Get a good idea of how much calcium you consume from dairy and green leafy veggies.
  2. Peri-menopausal women and postmenopausal women should be getting 1200 mg of calcium each day with diet and supplementation combined. In general it is best to derive nutrients from our diet, but for some, supplementation is important.
  3. Calcium supplementation should be taken in small amounts, such as a dose of yogurt or Swiss chard– each can contain as much as 300 mg per serving. A supplement should be no more than 200 mg per serving so that you don’t flood the blood stream with huge amounts of calcium all at once.
  4. Calcium citrate and calcium malate are the best forms for most people. Steer clear of calcium carbonate since it neutralizes stomach acid, which is needed for calcium breakdown and absorption. My personal favorite calcium/magnesium supplement is Reacted Cal/Mag by Othomolecular, which is a chelated mineral product and is easily absorbed. It is balanced with 200 mg calcium and 170 mg magnesium
  5. Balance calcium with magnesium – take 600 mg calcium in 3 doses throughout the day if you don’t get 600 mg calcium in your diet.

Magnesium / calcium debate

There is a debate on whether to take calcium with or separate from magnesium. I spoke with a couple of biochemists who do not feel that it makes a huge difference one-way or the other. What is important is taking a balance of the two. Given that I have decreased the amount of calcium intake for my patients, I now pretty much recommend a 1:1 ratio, although this is not always the case since people who do not eat a highly dense nutritional diet tend to be deficient in magnesium. I do recommend magnesium and calcium supplements to all my patients presently, and I have a very high percentage of patients with osteoporosis.

Do people with osteoporosis need more calcium? According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation website, the safe upper limit for total daily calcium intake from all sources is 2,000 – 2,500 mg. Since we are now correcting for vitamin D deficiency, I believe that this amount is too high for many people. For those who have osteoporosis I advise that you work with a practitioner who can evaluate a bone density test and who has an understanding for the nuances of interpreting bone density and its meaning for a specific individual. In addition, the doctor should be well versed in both nutrition and exercise to be able to form a game plan on how to stabilize bone loss if it is occurring and exercise programs that can build bone. Bone is complex and needs multiple nutrients to be healthy dense tissue. Why one person has or develops low bone density is different from someone else.