May 24, 2012 — A new study published in the journal Heart has found an 86% increased risk of heart attack associated with calcium supplements — but not dietary calcium. The study follows two other studies from 2010 and 2011 which also found increased risk of heart attack associated with calcium supplements. The researchers suggest that getting calcium from food, such as milk, may be healthier than getting calcium from a supplement.
A team of Swiss and German researchers tracked nearly 24,000 people for 11 years. The participants were quizzed on how much dietary calcium they regularly ate, and whether they took calcium supplements. During the study, there were 354 strokes, 260 strokes, and 267 deaths caused by heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
The researchers found that people who consumed moderate dietary calcium (at least 820-mg per day from food sources) had a 31% lower risk of heart attack. However, people who took calcium supplements had an 86% higher risk of a heart attack, compared to people who used no supplements.
The researchers concluded that getting your calcium from food is preferable to getting it from supplements. Other studies have also found that calcium supplements increase the risk of kidney stones, gastrointestinal symptoms (constipation), and hospitalization for acute abdominal problems.
The study adds evidence that getting calcium from supplements is not the same as getting calcium from food. When the body absorbs calcium from food, it does so in small amounts over a relatively long period of time. Calcium supplements create a spike of blood-calcium levels that could possible be the source of heart problems.
Even so, the research simply presents an association between calcium supplements and heart attacks, and does not prove cause and effect. Experts know that post-menopausal women who are unable to get enough calcium in their diet have a high risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures, which is why doctors often recommend that women take a calcium supplement.
If possible, the research suggests that modifying diet and increasing physical activity may be better ways to prevent osteoporosis. Many dairy products, and green, leafy vegetables are good sources of dietary calcium. Good sources of dietary calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, kale, broccoli, almonds, sunflower seeds, dried beans, and more. Experts also warn that over-cooking vegetables eliminates much of the calcium in vegetables.
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