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October 26, 2016

Helping Bones, Harming the Heart

Many people take calcium to strengthen their bones, not knowing the damage they are doing to their hearts.

People who take calcium supplements for the prevention or treatment of osteoporosis might want to dump the supplements and focus instead on getting their calcium from foods. The supplements can bring on heart trouble, a new study has found.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that over 40 percent of American adults and over 50 percent of women older than 60 take a calcium supplement in the hope of preventing osteoporosis. They may be doing more harm than good.

While taking calcium supplements creates a risk to heart health, eating foods high in calcium does not. In fact, high calcium foods may be beneficial to the heart.

When researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine looked at 10 years of data from medical tests on over 2,700 adults, they found that the people who took calcium supplements had an increased risk of developing heart disease.

Study participants ranged in age from 45 to 85 and were asked about their daily diet and supplement intake. They also had CT scans to measure calcification in their arteries, a risk factor for heart disease.

Those in the study who consumed the most total calcium, whether from food or supplements, had a 27 percent lower risk of heart disease compared to those who took in the least amount of calcium.

But when calcium supplement users were looked at separately, the risk of heart disease increased significantly, as did the risk of plaque accumulation in the arteries, compared to people who didn’t take supplements.

Americans tend to think more is better when taking vitamin and mineral supplements, especially calcium supplements, Erin Michos, lead author of the study, said. But this research speaks to the harm that can be caused to the heart and vascular system from ingesting excessive amounts of calcium from supplements. Women over the age of 50 are advised to consume 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day.

The body does not handle calcium from supplements in the same manner it processes calcium from food, though the exact difference is not yet understood. While taking calcium supplements creates a risk to heart health, eating foods high in calcium does not. In fact, high calcium foods may be beneficial to the heart.

Good food sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, spinach, soybeans, white beans, salmon and sardines. It's a good idea to talk to a doctor who is well-versed in calcium supplementation before deciding whether or not supplements are right for you.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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