Calcium supplements seem to be more popular than ever, with a growing number of people from all age groups taking them daily in the belief that they’re guarding themselves from osteoporosis and other bone diseases. According to researchers from the National Cancer Institute in Besthesda, Maryland, however, older men who have a high intake of calcium supplements put themselves at considerable risk of CVD death.
The researchers, whose study was published in the February 2013 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine, monitored the health of 388,229 male and female volunteers between the ages of 50 to 71 years over an average of 12 years. During that period, 51 percent of the 7,904 male volunteers who suffered cardiovascular disease-related deaths regularly took calcium supplements, versus 70 percent of the 3,874 female volunteers.
Furthermore, the results showed that men who regularly took 1,000 mg/day of calcium supplementation had a 20 percent greater risk of suffering from CVD death than men who avoided calcium supplements altogether. The same group also had a 19 percent greater risk of heart disease and a 14 percent greater risk of cerebrovascular disease. Women, on the other hand, seemed to be unaffected by the problems that the supplements posed to men.
“Whether there is a sex difference in the cardiovascular effect of calcium supplement warrants further investigation. Given the extensive use of calcium supplement in the population, it is of great importance to assess the effect of supplemental calcium use beyond bone health,” concluded lead researcher, Dr. Qian Xiao.
The study showed no connection between dietary calcium and cardiovascular disease.
Nutrients Work in Tandem, Not in Isolation
The main problem with calcium supplements, including supplements containing calcium derived from natural sources, is that they tend to contain calcium alone. However, in the natural world, nutrients such as calcium are not isolated from other nutrients but rather mixed with complementary nutrients to facilitate superior absorption.
Studies have shown, for example, that calcium will accumulate in our bones – ultimately leading to artery calcification and thus cardiovascular disease – if it is not consumed in conjunction with vitamin K2 and/or vitamin D. Since most calcium supplements do not provide us with vitamin K2 or vitamin D, they increase the risk of heart disease.
Natural foods that are rich in calcium, though, tend to contain complementary levels of vitamins K2 and D. This is especially the case with leafy green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, sprouts, asparagus, cabbage, okra, and spring onions. If the older male volunteers who partook in Dr. Xiao’s study had favored natural, food-based sources of calcium over calcium supplements, it is possible that many of them wouldn’t have succumbed to CVD death. As Dr. Susanna Larsson, a nutritionist from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, concluded when asked to comment on Dr. Xiao’s findings:
“A safe alternative to calcium supplements is to consume calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat dairy foods, beans, and green leafy vegetables, which contain not only calcium but also a cocktail of essential minerals and vitamins.”
About the Author
Michael Ravensthorpe is an independent writer whose research interests include nutrition, alternative medicine, and bushcraft. He is the creator of the website Spiritfoods, through which he promotes the world’s healthiest foods.