In 2011 a study emerged that claimed taking calcium supplements can increase your risk of heart attacks. (1)
So the headlines screamed…“Calcium Supplements Raise Heart Attack Risk 30%”
An easy decision was to stop that habit as soon as you read the news, and many people did.
Except in 2012 contrasting studies followed that said…
Given that information, you probably didn’t know which way to turn, and neither did I! Authorities seemed to be saying calcium supplements would shorten AND lengthen your life; that they are good and bad for us.
The resolution to this contradiction all along was in the details. So read further to learn about the trial and verdict…
Do Calcium Supplements Cause Heart attacks?
The source of the alarming heart attack headlines that went around the world in 2011 was the EPIC-Heidelberg Study that looked at a group of 25,540 Germans, then aged 35–64 years who were recruited from 1994–8.
Their health was tracked for 11 years, during which time 354 heart attacks, 260 strokes, and 267 associated deaths occurred.
The aim of the study was to see the effect that calcium from foods, and calcium from supplements had on cardiovascular disease.
The key findings of the study were:
1. In comparison with non-users of any supplements, users of calcium supplements had a statistically significantly increased cardiovascular disease risk.
2. Those who took calcium supplements regularly were 86% more likely to have a heart attack than those who didn’t use any supplements.
Case closed? This seemed to be enough convincing evidence to chuck your calcium supplements altogether. Because a broken bone from a calcium deficiency is definitely not as bad as a heart attack.But was there more to the data? Did the public flush their calcium pills out with the bathwater – and jeopardize their bone health needlessly?
Let’s dig deeper and see more critical findings from the same study…
The Fine Print
Other important points gleaned from the same study were…
4. The people with the highest calcium intake and lowest rate of cardiovascular problems took a calcium supplement that contains additional vitamins and minerals.
So There IS More To The Story
The conclusion from points 3 and 4 aligns with other studies showing that vitamin D and vitamin K, along with calcium, reduces heart health issues. And conversely, and what has been found in other published studies, is that cardiovascular risk increases for people taking large dose traditional calcium supplements – ones that aren’t accompanied with other vitamins and minerals. (4)
This agrees with countless published studies that prove both vitamin D and K help get calcium to the bones . (4) And without these critical D & K cofactors, it’s now predictable that some of the calcium will get stuck in your arteries, which is a precursor to issues of the heart.
What Else Was Left Out?
Another pivotal point that was not part of the headlines was that …
the calcium supplements that participants took were made from calcium carbonate– which is rock!
Yes, the typical calcium supplements they took over those 11 years were made from limestone and marble. Why? Because limestone and marble is 40% elemental calcium (that’s high compared to many other calcium sources) and is plentiful and cheap. Those are two good reasons to make supplements from it.
But the downside is traditional rock calcium supplements provide just that – only calcium, with a disregard for other necessary cofactors like vitamin D3 and K.
It was thought at one time that the bones need only calcium. So supplements were made from cheap rock to combat osteoporosis that contained nothing more than calcium.
However, now we know the bones are made not just from calcium, but many other minerals as well. So they need to be replenished with more than just calcium. And if you are lacking D and K, all the calcium will not get to your bones, but will lodge in the arteries and soft tissues.
Also, another conclusion from the EPIC-Heidelberg Study was that too much calcium at once (over 500mg) can’t absorb, but ‘floods’, or over burdens the bloodstream and finds shelter in the soft tissues and arteries.
Yet from all this data the media chose to only print that calcium supplements increase your risk of heart attacks.
Now did the media compromise the meaning due to space limitations, or because…Shocking News Sells? We may never know.
But what we do know is that headlines are the 10% of the iceberg that you see…and 90% of the information is below the surface, not seen, or considered by most.
Failing to account for the unseen 90% hurt the Titanic, and sadly is hurting the bone health of many who didn’t peer below the surface.
Do you remember study results in 2012 advocating the use of calcium and vitamin D? With your morning coffee and paper you may recall seeing…
“Vitamin D with Calcium shown to reduce Mortality in the Elderly”
They were words taken from a meta study (which is pooled data from more than one investigation) published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, in which eight randomized controlled trials with more than 1,000 participants each were considered. They were nearly 90 percent women, with an average age of 70 years.
The result from the three-year study?
“Death was reduced by 9 percent in those treated with calcium and vitamin D.”
“Calcium with Vitamin D Reduces Premature Death Rate” was another compelling one. This was no small study either. It was an analysis of 70,528 patients from 8 major vitamin D trials.
The conclusion from researchers was:
‘Vitamin D with calcium reduces mortality in the elderly, whereas available data do not support an effect of vitamin D alone.’ (2)
So despite vitamin D being a new superstar vitamin of the 21st century, the lesson is that stars still need costars, like calcium, to shine brightest and be effective.
This vast study showed that calcium and D work together and are both essential to ‘reduce mortality in the elderly’.
In summary, by oversimplifying in 2011 that ‘calcium will lead to heart attacks’ the media promoted a half truth that continues to affect the bone health of many. They would have been correct if they only added ‘IF you take large doses of rock calcium, unaccompanied by vitamin D and K.’
It is common sense, and is corroborated by the data, that getting your calcium from food sources is safer and more effective than from single element rock supplements.
However, to accommodate our nutrient poor modern diets, quality supplements should still be seen as convenient ‘insurance’.
The happy middle ground for best bone health may lie in getting your calcium needs in part through diet, and part from supplements not made from rock, but body friendly multi mineral plant.