For years, people have been taking calcium supplements to prevent bone loss and stave off osteoporosis. While they may decrease your risk for a fracture, a recent study has found that calcium supplements can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The study of nearly 24,000 people in Europe, ages 35 to 64, took place over an 11-year period. When the research team looked specifically at calcium supplements, they found an 86 percent increase in heart attacks among study participants who took them regularly compared with those who did not take supplements. An increase in strokes was also reported for those taking higher-dose supplements of calcium.
“These are compelling data,” says Leslie Cho, MD, Director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Cardiovascular Center. “For our patients with established heart disease, we have been recommending dietary calcium rather than medications. This means that getting calcium directly from your diet from milk, yogurt and other foods rich in calcium is best.”
Some doctors and researchers have speculated that high doses of calcium at one time are the problem with supplements, and that is why having calcium in your diet in smaller doses is better for you.
A report about the study was published online in the journal Heart this spring. The conclusion of the study stated: “Increasing calcium intake from diet might not confer significant cardiovascular benefits, while calcium supplements, which might raise MI risk, should be taken with caution.” (MI is myocardial infarction or heart attack.)
Be sure to discuss your calcium intake with your doctor if you are concerned.
About Vitamin D
Now more than ever, we are paying attention to vitamin D deficiency. We’re aware that individuals who live in climates where there is less sun exposure, are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, which is consistent with the rates of vitamin D deficiency. Thus, the current trend of taking vitamin D supplements.
Studies have confirmed the relationship between vitamin D deficiency and cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and peripheral artery disease. In addition, studies have linked low vitamin D levels to an increased risk of heart attack in men.
But a very recent study is calling into question whether D supplements are having any “clinically meaningful changes in lipid concentrations.” A lipid profile is a group of tests that are often ordered together (such as LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglyceride tests), to determine a person’s risk of coronary heart disease.
The question is whether people in good health tend to be outdoors more and therefore get more sunshine and vitamin-D production in the skin. These same people may well have healthier eating habits. In this case, their higher D levels might be the “result” and not the “cause” of good health habits.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include muscle pain, joint pain and fatigue, and these symptoms can mimic the side effects of various medications.
Trials are currently under way to look more closely at vitamin D supplements with results expected in a few years. Until then, it’s recommended that we get outdoors and eat foods with vitamin D. And in the meantime, talk to your doctor if you are taking vitamin D supplements.
In conclusion, Dr. Cho says, “I am not sure about vitamin deficiency causing heart disease. I still believe the western diet together with sedentary lifestyle, are the two biggest contributors to heart disease.”