Calcium Supplements & Heart Health

A calcium supplement may be good for your bones but possibly not so good for your heart.  This is according to new research suggesting that taking a dietary supplement of calcium may cause harm to the heart.  But research shows eating calcium rich foods does not have the same effect.

The research team involved with the study analyzed data of more than 2,700 adults in a U.S. government-funded heart disease study that included more than 10 years of medical tests.  Ages of the participants ranged from 45 to 85.  Each participant was questioned on their daily food choices and what supplements they took.

To measure the amount of calcification of their arteries, all participants underwent CT scans.  Calcification happens when calcium builds up in body tissue, blood vessels, or organs and is a known risk factor for heart disease.

Results from the analysis showed that individuals in the top fifth of calcium intake, no matter whether from a food choice or a calcium supplement, had a 27 percent lower risk of heart disease when compared to those in the bottom one-fifth.  But this was looking at the total calcium intake without separating out whether the mineral came from a food source or from a supplement.

The results when the researchers looked at just intake of calcium from a calcium supplement alone proved to be different. What they found was taking a calcium supplement significantly increased the risk of plaque buildup in arteries raising the risk of heart disease when compared to those who did not take a calcium supplement. 

Calcium supplements are taken by about 43 percent of adults living in the U.S. and over half of women over the age of 60 take a calcium supplement to reduce their risk of osteoporosis.

It was noted by the researchers that food naturally containing calcium, such as dairy foods, do not appear to increase heart disease and in fact, may actually protect the heart.

Calcium is a necessary mineral for achieving and maintaining strong bones helping prevent osteoporosis with aging. The best way to obtain calcium is through including calcium-rich foods in the diet – all dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese along with plant sources of calcium such as broccoli, salmon with bones, and leafy greens such as kale, bok choy, and collard and turnip greens.

There are differences of opinion when it comes to whether a person should take a calcium supplement or not. Some researchers suggest that this observational study showed that when a person takes a calcium supplement along with choosing foods rich in calcium, that it demonstrates the safety of calcium supplements for heart health.  But other researchers question calcium supplements safety as it is also known that excess calcium which is usually the result of supplementation is also not good for the heart.  Other studies have also shown that using a calcium supplement may increase the risk for kidney stones.

Excess calcium intake is defined as more than 2500 milligrams a day.  Adults need from 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day which can be achieved through careful dietary choices.  If a person chooses to use a calcium supplement, they will need to factor in the amount of calcium coming food sources in order not to exceed 2500 milligrams a day.

All individuals should discuss with their physician on the risks and benefits of taking a calcium supplement to determine what is the right decision and right balance in order to protect their bones without harming their heart.