by Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D. 2/2019
If you’ve been popping calcium pills in hopes of improving your bone health, you might want to reconsider. Calcium supplements might increase the risk of having a heart attack, according to new research published in the journal Heart. (1)
Calcium is a micronutrient important to bone health. Many women and elderly people take calcium supplements to stave off bone loss and prevent osteoporosis. However, new research indicates that these supplements may come with some cardiovascular risks.
The study included data from nearly 24,000 German men and women who took part in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study. All participants were between ages 35 and 64 when they joined the study between 1994 and 1998. They recorded their food and supplement intake throughout the study and were followed for an average of 11 years.
The researchers found that participants who took calcium supplements were 86 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who did not. Interestingly—in contrast, participants who had a high dietary calcium intake (from foods rather than supplements) were about 31 percent less likely to have a heart attack compared to individuals with a low dietary calcium intake.
Why the discrepancy? Scientists aren’t sure—but they speculate that calcium supplements might cause a sudden surge of calcium into the system and this calcium could end up contributing to the plaque that lines the arteries. Dietary calcium, on the other hand, is consumed in small amounts spread throughout the course of the day and is likely absorbed more slowly. Of course, this is just a theory and will need to be confirmed through further research.
The results of this study have generated a great deal of controversy in the medical community, but it’s not the first study to find a link between calcium supplements and heart attacks. (2)
The bottom line—until research confirms or refutes the risks of calcium supplements, it’s probably wise to use caution. If you’re concerned about bone health, focus on increasing your dietary intake of calcium through foods such as sesame seeds, chia seeds, dark leafy greens, dairy products, flaxseeds, oranges, and broccoli.
Most of us don’t need huge doses of calcium. Work with your doctor to determine your individual calcium needs. If you do choose to supplement, be sure to maintain regular preventive health screening to stay on top of any risk factors for heart disease.
- Li K, Kaaks R, Linseisen J, Rohrmann S. Associations of dietary calcium intake and calcium supplementation with myocardial infarction and stroke risk and overall cardiovascular mortality in the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study (EPIC-Heidelberg). Heart. 2012; 98: 920-925.
- Bolland MJ, Grey A, Avenell A, et al. Calcium supplements with or without vitamin D and risk of cardiovascular events: reanalysis of the Women’s Health Initiative limited access dataset and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal, 2011; 342: d2040 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d2040