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Calcium Supplements and Heart Attack

Many patients who have been advised to supplement with Calcium (especially women for bone protection) were thrown for a loop by the study in the British Medical Journal that linked calcium supplements to heart attack.  Here is what the researchers found:

They studied 24,000 German and European patients ages 35-64.  Using questionnaires, they quizzed them about their vitamin and mineral supplements.  They also tracked their health for 11 years, looking at heart attacks, strokes and death.  (These studies can be easily done in countries with Socialized Medicine because everyone has health coverage and electronic records!!!)

They found that the intake of calcium supplements did not affect the risk of stroke, either protection or causation.  But the people who took calcium supplements daily were 86% more likely to have a heart attack than those who didn't use any supplements.  Dietary calcium caused no problem, it was just the supplements.

What should we make of this study?  Dietary calcium is a good thing and calcium from food actually lowered the risk of heart attack.  So eating foods with calcium is just fine.  But we have relied too much on supplements that are increasingly being found to be worthless in preventing disease and even harmful when taken in large doses. 

The average person should not take calcium supplements.  They can increase the risk of kidney stones, cause gastrointestinal problems and even heart attacks.    It is now becoming clear that recommending vitamin supplements can be harmful and they do not replace good, balanced diets.

Foods with calcium:

low fat dairy, yogurt, cheese, collards, spinach, potatoes, soybeans, turnips


Anonymous said…
Wow! Even if you need to take it to keep our bones strong? Wonder if you have an allergy to the foods? What then. HELP Doc!!!
Jonathan said…
Great. There go our calcium supplements, mine after 30+ years. We'll up the natural sources. Thanks for your update on this subject.
Jonathan said…
Great. There go our calcium supplements, mine after 30+ years. We'll up the natural sources of calcium. Thanks for addressing this issue.
Toni Brayer, MD said…
Anon: If you are prescribed calcium for bone loss OR you are not getting enough (at least 1100 mg/day) in food then, yes, taking a supplement is recommended. You can go online and look up calcium content in foods and judge if you need to up your dietary intake. Vegans who do not drink/eat dairy might be at most risk of not getting enough.

This study is not the final say on the subject, but it does confirm what other studies have shown about Calxium pills and risk of heart attack...taking pills is not equivalent to getting nutrients in the diet. Vitamins and supplements are not always "harmless" and "more" is not better.
Epistane said…
There go our products, my own after 30+ decades. We'll up the organic resources. Thanks for your upgrade on this topic.
Anonymous said…
I just came back to this article, because when it was first posted there were no comments. I think this is a good place for you to help educate all of us about a number of things, including the goodness of this study, whether the statistical inferences suggest a correlation or causation, etc. As it's written, it's a very glib explanation. Not your fault, but can you comment on this study please? Thank you.
Toni Brayer, MD said…
Anon: As I said in the post, every study, this one included, has flaws and cause-effect can only be inferred, not proven because all of the variables in the environment and the human body cannot be controlled.

Data from studies is always difficult to interpret. But this was not an isolated study. Previous studies done as a meta-analysis of the large Women's Health Initiative looked at Calcium supplements and calcium plus vitamin D and found both increased risk of heart attack.

In none of these studies was cardo-vascular disease designed as the endpoint, which limits the interpretation.

Since Calcium Supplements are the top selling supplements on the market, it is important that we understand their full effects. I have not heard any scientist refute what I said in the blog:

"Calcium is an important nutrient and it should be obtained from food sources unless it is prescribed by a physician for a medical condition or nutritional deficiency."
Jibran Qazi said…
I agree with Toni here. At the end of the day, the best way to get calcium is through plant based sources. We naturally digest plant based foods faster and they get absorbed by our body much faster then anything else. The sooner we all switch to a plant based diet, the better off we are going to be me in many things. This is coming from a former self proclaimed "Pepperoni Pizza" connoisseur :)

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