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The Calcium Scare

The Calcium Scare


During the week of May 21st, a story hit the newspapers and tv news broadcasts about the “danger” of calcium supplements. I have yet to see the actual study. Instead, I only know what is reported in the papers and shown on TV. From what I have seen, it does not seem worthy of any real concern unless you are taking a good deal more isolated calcium than we recommend. One “TV Doctor” I watched made a big thing over not taking more than 2,000 mg a day. Then, he pulls out a plate of dairy products and green vegetables to show how you can get “all the calcium you need without taking supplements!” One point that I think does merit some consideration is the importance of taking a balanced calcium supplement, one with magnesium, vitamin D, etc, along with a multivitamin that includes the trace minerals, vitamin K and other co-factors. We have always cautioned against the advice given by many doctors “take a calcium supplement, maybe Tums.” Several rebuttals and comments follow. Don Goldberg

It’s also interesting to note that this calcium scare comes so soon after the FDA warning that long term use of the bisphosphonate drugs (Fosamax, etc) have been linked certain types of bone fractures.

Here are some of the comments on the “study.:

CRN debunks calcium–heart health study results

Thu, 2012-05-24 08:13
Engredea News & Analysis

Council for Responsible Nutrition

In response to the study published today in Heart Journal, “Associations of dietary calcium intake and calcium supplementation with myocardial infarction and stroke risk and overall cardiovascular mortality in the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study,” by Li et al, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the leading trade association representing the dietary supplement industry, issued the following statement.

Statement by Taylor C. Wallace, Ph.D., Senior Director, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs, CRN:

“Calcium is an important mineral with proven benefits for bone health and a long history of safe use backed by an extensive body of observational and clinical studies that supports its use for reducing the risk for osteoporosis and hip, bone and other fractures. In addition, research has shown positive effects on risk factors associated with heart health.

This study itself is not reason enough to discount the important benefits of calcium, but consumers with questions—as well as their doctors—should consider these following points: The original study wasn’t designed to measure cardiovascular events; consequently confounding factors for cardiovascular disease were not equally distributed across the study groups. So, for example, the calcium supplement group had a population with a greater incidence of high cholesterol at baseline, and also included more smokers who were more likely to smoke for a longer duration. (The association between smoking and heart disease is well-established.) In terms of considering the relative risk, of the 851 individuals taking supplements containing calcium, only seven events occurred in users of supplements containing only calcium.

The bottom line is consumers need calcium, and particularly for the elderly, who are at such great risk of falls and fractures due to weak bones, removing calcium supplements from their diets could put them at even greater risk for those kinds of problems. Our advice is for consumers to be aware of how much calcium they get from their diet, supplement with calcium if needed, and check with their doctor or other healthcare practitioner to determine their own personal needs.”

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NPA Highlights Benefits of Calcium Supplements, Disputes New Study

Dr. Cara Welch, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Natural Products Association, comments on a study published this week in Heart Journal on the effects of taking calcium supplements:
"It's important to note that this study was not set up to look at cardiovascular disease. The sub-population this study looked at, users of calcium supplements alone, was very small compared to the total group, with an older average age as well as a longer duration of smoking. Meanwhile, the benefits of calcium are well-accepted. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a health claim on the use of calcium with regard to osteoporosis.
"The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements agrees that calcium does not negatively affect the heart. They have stated that, "Calcium has been proposed to help reduce cardiovascular disease risk by decreasing intestinal absorption of lipids, increasing lipid excretion, lowering cholesterol levels in the blood, and promoting calcium influx into cells…Results from other prospective studies have shown no significant associations between calcium intake and cardiac events or cardiovascular mortality."
"The Natural Products Association does not believe that the results published today should cause consumers to stop taking their calcium supplements. Calcium supplements are important for those Americans who do not get the appropriate amount of calcium in their diet. We recommend you discuss your calcium intake with your health care professional."
NPA members are welcome to share this NPA statement with consumers or staff who ask about this study.
For more information about the benefits and usage of dietary supplements, visit
Read the NIH quote at

What you haven't heard about the latest calcium scare

Does calcium really cause heart attacks, as studies suggest? Here's the untold story about the world's No. 1 mineral supplement.

By now you’ve probably heard about the latest piece of scientific evidence, published yesterday, saying that the No. 1 selling dietary supplement mineral, calcium, causes heart attacks. Is it true?

If you’ve been paying attention, you will recall that in the summer of 2010, a research group first published a study—a “meta-analysis” of researcher-selected studies (grain of salt alert!)—that sought to demonstrate their hypothesis that calcium supplements were linked with an increased risk of heart attacks.

This week, that same group of researchers from the same research center in Germany tried to replicate their findings from their cherry-picked meta-analysis. They reported that, after following 23,980 patients between the ages of 35 and 64 for 11 years as part of a European study into nutrition and cancer, there was an increased incidence of heart attack risk among those who took calcium supplements.

Two thoughts here. One, the primary end points of the study were on cancer, not cardiovascular events. Which counts for something. More notably, however, was their findings that greater dairy calcium intake—that’s dairy, as in milk or cheese or ice cream and not supplements—actually had a significantly lower risk of heart attacks.

A third finding also deserves mention: They found no link between either calcium supplements or food-based calcium intake and strokes or overall cardiovascular disease death (just not heart attacks).

I always say that one study does not a conclusion make, and even then I always hesitate to use the word “prove,” preferring the more modest “demonstrate.” Because what can truly be proved in this world anyway? Studies merely show that something at some time under some conditions were demonstrated. Has a different party replicated those results?

Turns out that just last week, these results were replicated. In a Swiss study, published last week and unheralded in the media, researchers followed 326 patients who were assessed for cardiac risk factors before undergoing surgery for something not related to a cardio condition. They found that calcium was implicated as being a strong predictor of bad news on the horizon. When researchers checked back in on patients 40 days after their surgery, the patients with the highest amount of calcium in their coronary arteries had the highest incidence of cardio events, defined as heart attacks, stroke and death. Similarly, those with the lowest amount of calcium deposits in their arteries had the lowest incidence of cardio events.

So, what does this mean for America’s favorite mineral?

Three things, in inceasing levels of importance. (Can you feel the drama building?)

One, if calcium is implicated only in sudden-death heart attacks but not other types of cardiovascular insult like strokes, this makes me think of the greatest natural bioactive to counter this. Fish oil. Remember, heart attacks that kill you before you get a chance to get out of your chair are usually caused because a chunk of arterial plaque (comprised mostly of calcium, ahem) broke off and suddenly clogged your artery in full, and you drop like a fly. What fish oil does is decrease blood platelet stickiness—it makes your blood more slippery—so that the blood is more apt to slide around those plaque deposits without breaking them off.

Two, those researchers this week found calcium alone led to heart attack problems, but not calcium in a food.

Notably, researchers from the same research center found no correlation between blood levels of calcium and phosphate on coronary heart disease, but there was an association between calcium-only levels on death risk among 1,206 patients followed for eight years post-op.

Presence of trace minerals copper, selenium and zinc can positively enhance bone density. Other studies show no association between these minerals. However, research does show one mighty mineral does help: magnesium.

You likely know magnesium because of its traditional use with calcium in bone-health formulations at the 1:2 ratio of magnesium to calcium. That’s because calcium cannot get absorbed without its mineral mate magnesium. But we’re already consuming way too much calcium.

“Americans consume over 10 times the recommended allowance of calcium—highest consumption rate worldwide—and have the highest rate of osteoporosis,” said Rick Hand at supplements manufacturer Natural Vitality.

That’s why forward-operating supplements manufacturers are heeding the call and are beginning to dispense with formulations of the classic 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium, going more for a 1:1 ratio.

Combating overconsumption of calcium

And three, when you take the studies and news from above, what you’ll see is that calcium alone kills, but calcium from dietary sources—meaning calcium linked with other nutrients—saves. That’s why truly cutting-edge supplements manufacturers and marketers are also including additional co-factors with calcium, including vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin K2.

That makes quite a bit of sense, because bones—despite being white like calcium—are comprised of a range of minerals. Just like dietary sources of calcium.

Vitamin D has been the clear winner the last few years, because it has benefits far beyond mere bone health. I’m seeing magnesium as following behind D’s footsteps, and it too has benefits far beyond bone health, including—that’s right—cardiovascular health, as well as cognitive health including sleep, memory and anxiety.

Everyone should also be formulating with vitamin K2, which has the unique ability to remove calcium from arteries (point for cardio health) and deposits it in bones (bonus for bones). K2, in particular the longer-chain menaquinone-7 form, had a study presented this very week showing it improves bone strength and prevents cardiovascular aging.

Taken as a whole, the clear recommendation is that calcium all by itself may well be bad for you. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t supplement. Just supplement with a quality-made product that includes calcium with a matrix of co-factors to both build bone and enhance cardiovascular health.

Calcium supplements may well be bad for you. But quality calcium-based supplements save lives.

Todd Runestad
Thu, 2012-05-24 15:05
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