Time to reconsider calcium supplements?

There have been recent negative reports linking calcium supplements with heart disease. Our local cardiologist blogger has his take:

Calcium Supplements and the Heart

There has been much written about the effects of calcium supplements for our human body. It is true that as we age, osteoporosis will set in, causing us to have bone pains and easy fractures. The orthopedic solution is to give calcium supplements to try and increase bone density ( although there are other better ways ), and reduce bone pains. I personally prefer a good dose of exercise in the hope that exercise will strengthen the bones and also with a good dose of sunlight, our Vitamin D will also strengthen the bones, besides all the other good cardiovascular effects of exercise. I believe that that is how our forefathers kept away the old age aches and pains. They just worked very hard in the fields.
Recently, there has been much medical and cardiac literature on the issue of the ill effects of calcium supplement on the heart. Basically, there is growing evidence that calcium supplements ( especially the higher dose ones ) may be associated with an increase incidence of myocardial infarction.
The last being two reports in the HEART journal, June issue. One study, the larger one, is by Dr Kuanrong Li of Heidelberg and the other by Dr Sabina Rohrmann of the University of Zurich.
Dr Li looked into the dietary profile ( through a food frequency questionaire ) 12 months before enrollment, in 23,980 patients, aged 35-64years, who had cancers, but no heart disease at enrolment. She looked into their frequency of calcium supplement consumptions and also their dietary calcium consumption. After 12 years of follow-up, they found that there were 354 heart attacks, 260 sytrokes, and 267 cardiovascular deaths. When they broke down these events, they found no correlation between CV deaths, strokes and calcium supplements. There was however a significant correlation between heart attack rates and calcium supplements, especially those that were 500 mg and above per dose.
They concluded that there seemed to be a correlation between calcium supplements and heart attack rates, especially if the dose consumed is 500 mg and above per dose. It is obvious that dietary calcium is much safer. They also hypothesized that this could be because of the more even effects that small doses have on blood calcium levels. It would appear that high dose calcium tablets increases the serum calcium with a spike, and that spiking of the serum calcium, could trigger a heart attack. At least that is the current hypothesis.
Coming back to healthy lifestyle, the naturally occurring calcium in foods like eggs, milk and milk products, cabbage, broccoli, may be better ways of improving our body calcium. we consume them is small gradual doses, without causing calcium spikes in the blood, and so is much safer.
Looks like the good old grandpa method is the best.
We however must wait for much more evidence before we can call for a ban of high dose calcium supplements, which is a multi million dollar industry.

More links:
Medlineplus: Calcium Supplements May Be Bad for Your Heart: Study
The Guardian: Calcium supplements ‘double risk of heart attack’, study finds

Doctors wishing to discuss more on this issue in the private Malaysian doctors forum, Dobbs, can participate in this thread: Time to stop calcium supplements? (if you are not a member of Dobbs but are a Malaysian doctor, you can register for free)


Malaysian physician, haematologist, blogger, web and tech enthusiast