Studies Link Calcium Supplements to Heart Disease

By November 9, 2013Nutrition
heart disease calcium supplements

We have long been told that calcium supplements are vital for our bone health.  The advice sunk in.  Approximately 43% of Americans use a supplement which contains calcium.  You’d think that all these supplements would be giving us strong bones.  Really, they could be harming our heart health.

Studies Find Link between Calcium Supplements and Health Problems

Recently there has been a surge of studies showing that calcium supplements could be inadvertently harming our health.

  • Men taking 1000mg of calcium daily as supplements were 20% more likely to die from a heart attack (from study with 400,000 participants since 1995; see study here)
  • People taking calcium supplements were 86% more likely to have a heart attack (from a German study with 24,000 participants)
  • An analysis of 15 studies found that taking calcium increases risk of heart attack by 30%

These are just a few of the studies which show a link between calcium supplements and heart disease.  Bear in mind that studies can only show a link and not a positive correlation. There are also many studies which did not find a link between calcium supplements and heart attack.  However, since these 3 studies/analyses mentioned above are so large, the link is worrisome.


Why is it that calcium supplements are causing heart problems? 

It isn’t enough to just take calcium.  There are many other nutrients which work together with calcium to make sure it gets absorbed and taken to where it needs to go (our bones).  These helping nutrients are called cofactors.


Calcium Cofactors Magnesium and Vitamin K2

Researchers suspect that the reason calcium from supplements is clogging our arteries is because of deficiencies in magnesium and vitamin K2.

Magnesium helps control how much calcium gets into cells.  Magnesium also helps calcium dissolve in the blood. Without enough magnesium, too much calcium gets into cells can cause buildup.  Sources of magnesium include greens, nuts, seeds, and beans.

Researchers have only recently begun looking at vitamin K2.  It acts like a transportation system for calcium and shuttles it to where it needs to go in the body.  If you are lacking K2, then calcium can end up in the arteries instead of the bones.

Vitamin K2 is available in some dairy products and fermented foods (learn the health benefits of fermented foods here)  Even though our bodies can make it from vitamin K1 (which is readily available in all sorts of green foods), our bodies aren’t very efficient at converting K1 to K2.


Should You Stop Taking Calcium Supplements?

You should never rely completely on supplements to meet your nutrient requirements.  Food is a much better source of nutrients because it will also contain the cofactors required to ensure the nutrient is absorbed and utilized properly (this is the same reason why experts recommend eating a variety of foods).

If you are going to take a calcium supplement, then it would be smart to take one which also contains calcium cofactors.  Many calcium supplements already contain Vitamin D, but you will want to look for one which contains magnesium and Vitamin K2 as well.   During wintertime (when there isn’t much sunlight for Vitamin D), I take a supplement called Bone Up by Jarrow (it is vegan-friendly).  It contains all the calcium cofactors.  I also make sure to eat lots of fermented foods to get K2 and help the calcium get to my bones instead of hardening in my arteries.

Image credit:
Vitamins and supplements, 10 day supply. by Marynificent Bradley
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About Diane Vukovic

Diane Vukovic is a vegan mom, health nut, and kitchen diva. When she's not deducing veggie nutritional facts, she's probably dancing crazily with her daughter or traveling somewhere in Europe.

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