The National Osteoporosis Foundation published a new report this week, insisting that calcium supplements are safe for your heart. Two weeks ago, Johns Hopkins cardiologist Erin Michos published a paper saying the opposite.
She notes that the NOF review (which was funded by a pharmaceutical company that makes calcium supplements) omitted certain studies (such as the ones she included in her own review) that might have changed the conclusion.
These are just the latest two volleys in a five-year-long tennis match between experts on whether you should or shouldn’t take calcium supplements. And you thought politics was divisive.
Concerns about heart health only kick in when older people are getting large amounts of calcium. However, this is more common than you might think. Post-menopausal women typically take 1,000 to 1500 mg of calcium in supplement form–often, following the (questionable) advice of their general practitioner or gynecologist. This is on top of the 500-1000 mg that they are already getting from their diet. Many also regularly use Tums or another calcium-based antacid, which can add another 1000 to 2000 mg. But who’s counting?
More Calcium is not Better
When it comes to calcium, more is not better. Not only does that extra calcium not reduce your risk of osteoporosis or fractures, it increases your risk of kidney stones, heart attack and stroke.
In their guidelines, the National Osteoporosis Foundation gives lip service to the fact that food is the best place to get your calcium and that supplementation should only be used to “close the gap” between the recommendations and your daily intake. (For most people, that would be no more than 250 – 500 mg).
But all this arguing about whether calcium supplements are or are not harmful to your heart overlooks the elephant in the room, which is that they probably don’t do much good.
Back in 2012, the US Preventive Task Force concluded that “Daily supplementation with up to 1000 mg of calcium and up to 400 IU of vitamin D3 has no net benefit for the primary prevention of fractures.”
So why are we still arguing about this?