We all need calcium in our diet for healthy bones. To prevent osteoporotic fractures, doctors often prescribe calcium supplements to older people. But a new study suggests that calcium supplements may increase a person’s risk of suffering a heart attack.
Calcium in food vs. supplements
Research has linked higher calcium intake with a lowered risk of high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes. According to the National Institutes of Health, you should take in 1,000-1,200 milligrams of calcium every day. A cup of yogurt, a glass of milk and a slice of cheese will get you there. If you can’t eat dairy, a glass of fortified orange juice, a slice of salmon and a half-cup of tofu will do the same.
But more than 60 percent of women over 60 take calcium supplements to prevent osteoporotic fractures, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. And new research suggests that calcium supplements do not deliver the same benefits as calcium in food. In fact, calcium supplements may be doing more harm than good.
Calcium supplements and heart attacks
Researchers in Germany are suggesting that people who take calcium supplements could be increasing their risk of having a heart attack. They tracked nearly 25,000 European adults for 11 years, and found that people who said they took calcium supplements were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who didn’t take calcium supplements.
Plus, no evidence was found that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources reduced the risk of heart disease and stroke. Participants in the study who consumed a moderate amount of calcium daily (820 mg) had a 31 percent lower risk of heart attack than those who consumed less. But the risk was no lower for people who consumed more than 1,100 mg a day.
Calcium and arteriosclerosis
Why is getting calcium from food better than taking supplements? Most people aren’t aware that calcium is in the same category as cholesterol when it comes to arteriosclerosis. Some experts think that calcium in the diet releases the nutrient slowly in a consistent dose, while supplements overwhelm the system with a concentrated dump of calcium. The excess calcium likely ends up in the plaque that plugs up arteries.
A healthy, balanced diet
Calcium is important, but calcium supplements probably aren’t the safe, low cost solution for osteoporosis prevention most people have been led to believe. The new research suggests that the effectiveness of calcium supplements in preventing osteoporotic fractures doesn’t outweigh the potential heart attack risk.
Most people don’t need to take calcium supplements. A healthy balanced diet will provide all the nutrients you need, including calcium.