Calcium supplements and heart risk

Getting the mineral from pills might increase your risk of a heart attack

Consumer Reports on Health: January 2013

Calcium supplements are often recommended for older people, especially women, to prevent bone fractures. But mounting evidence suggests that possible benefit might need to be weighed against an unexpected risk: heart attack.

In a recent study in the journal Heart, researchers followed 23,980 German adults for an average of 11 years. They found that people whose diets included a moderate amount of calcium, about 820 milligrams daily, had a lower risk of a heart attack than those whose diets included little calcium. But those whose intakes were higher—more than 1,100 milligrams a day—did not have a lower heart-attack risk.

What’s more, when the researchers looked just at people who used supplements regularly, they found an 86 percent higher risk of heart attacks than in those who took no calcium supplements. The increase was the most pronounced among people who got their calcium from calcium-only supplements, suggesting that the pills themselves, not overall calcium intake, were the key factor driving the heightened heart-attack risk.

The authors of the study suggest that the link may stem from the quick spike in blood calcium that happens after taking a supplement, compared with the gradual absorption that occurs from eating food that is rich in calcium.

Bottom line. More research is needed to definitively link calcium supplements to heart attacks. But those findings mirror other research and are a reminder that it’s better and safer to get your nutrients from food rather than pills. If you take a calcium supplement, ask your doctor whether you should, especially because the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now suggests that supplements might not reduce fracture risk in most people.

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