May 24, 2012 — Researchers have conducted a study which found that taking calcium supplements (but not dietary calcium) could increase the risk of heart attack by 86%, compared to people who take no supplements. This latest study adds to a growing body of evidence regarding the safety and risks of using calcium supplements. Recently, two other studies published in 2010 and 2011 found that calcium supplements could increase the risk of heart attack.
The researchers collected and analyzed data on nearly 24,000 men and women for 11 years. During this time, there were 354 heart attacks, 260 strokes, and 267 heart disease deaths. The researchers pointed out the relatively small number of heart attacks, which limits the statistical significance of the results.
Interestingly, the researchers found that dietary calcium (found in milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) decreased the risk of heart attack by 31%. However, the people who used calcium supplements had an 86% higher risk of heart attack, compared to people who never took supplements.
Although this research presents an association between heart attacks and calcium supplements (proportionally, more people taking calcium supplements had heart attacks), it does not prove that the supplements caused the heart attack.
For people who have other risk factors for heart disease (smoking, family history, being older in age, high cholesterol, uncontrolled diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, etc.), it could be dangerous to add one more possible risk factor.
Other experts warn that post-menopausal women who do not get enough calcium in food are at high risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures, and they should be taking a supplement.
In an editorial that accompanied the publication of the study, experts recommended that people should modify their diet to obtain adequate calcium from food. Good sources of dietary calcium include yogurt, cheese, milk, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, kale, almonds, sunflower seeds, dried beans, and more. Cooking foods in less water for shorter periods of time also helps keep more calcium in the foods.
The Institute of Medicine’s daily recommended amount of calcium varies by age and gender. Women between the ages of 19-50 should take 1,000-mg per day. Women over 51 and men over 70 should increase this amount to 1,200-mg per day. Each glass of mild has about 300-mg of calcium.
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