Calcium Supplements: Not Worth the Risk

The body doesn't digest these as originally thought

Your calcium supplement isn’t doing you any favors. After 10 years of medical research that employed more than 2,700 people, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have determined that calcium supplements actually increase the risk of heart attack.

Researchers began feeling skeptical about the health benefits of the supplements after they realized the calcium wasn’t making it to the bones — and it wasn’t passing through the body, either. Instead, the supplements deposited calcium into the soft tissue of the body, such as the muscles and blood vessels.

Nutritious, calcium-rich foods decrease the risk of heart disease — while supplements do just the opposite.

These deposits contribute to atherosclerosis, a condition in which calcium plaques build up along artery walls and cause strokes or heart attacks.

Doctors thought the body digested the calcium in nutritious foods — such as milk, leafy greens, and fortified cereals — the same way it processed the calcium in supplements. Not so. Nutritious, calcium-rich foods decrease the risk of heart disease, but supplements do just the opposite.

“There is clearly something different in how the body uses and responds to supplements, versus intake through diet that makes it riskier,” said Dr. John Anderson, a nutritionist at the University of North Carolina, in a media release. “It could be that supplements contain calcium salts, or it could be from taking a large dose all at once that the body is unable to process.”

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When it comes to calcium, you can have too much of a good thing.

“Many Americans think more is always better,” says Erin Michos, associate director of preventive cardiology at Johns Hopkins University, in a statement. “But our study adds to the body of evidence that excess calcium in the form of supplements may harm the heart and vascular system.”

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More than half of all Americans take dietary supplements of some kind. Older women, who are especially prone to osteoporosis because their estrogen levels have dropped, often take vitamin D and calcium supplements. For these women, juggling the risks of the calcium supplements still isn’t worth it, even when they account for the 50-percent risk of a fracture from brittle bones. The calcium supplements don’t get to the bones anyway.

Bottom line: Consult your doctor before taking any additional calcium — but eat as many salads as you can.

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