Having weak bones is a big concern as we get older. A fall or a misstep can easily fracture a brittle bone, and recovery time gets longer with age. To prevent this, many take calcium supplements that help ensure their bones stay strong and flexible. But it turns out, because of their adverse side effects, these supplements might not be the best fix. Research shows that calcium supplements may increase your risk of heart disease and cardiovascular events like a heart attack.
The Research on Calcium Supplements
Over the years, multiple studies have shown that calcium pills aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. In a report published in the Boston Medical Journal, for instance, researchers performed an in-depth analysis of 11 calcium studies. When they compared all the information, they found that 5.8 percent of participants who took a supplement suffered from a cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or a stroke. About 5.5 participants on a placebo suffered from a heart attack or a stroke as well. This difference might seem small. However, the research also showed that people who take the supplement are 30 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
A more recent study from the Journal of the American Heart Association found that calcium supplements increase the risk of a cardiovascular event caused by clogged arteries. Interestingly, the research also showed that eating a diet high in calcium without supplements decreased the risk of “incident atherosclerosis.” This is an event such as a heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, or blood clot caused by atherosclerosis (a thickening and hardening of the arteries). In addition, women who participated in the study had a higher intake of calcium than men, which suggests that they were more concerned about getting enough calcium.
Scientists at the Washington Post believe that the body metabolizes the calcium in supplements differently than it metabolizes the calcium in food. They theorize that the calcium in supplements never reaches the bones. Instead, it may build up in soft tissue and muscles like the heart.
Take the News With a Grain of Salt
It’s important to note that the research on supplemental calcium is mixed. According to the Washington Post, other studies show that the opposite is true: Those who get a high dose of calcium from both supplements and food are less likely to suffer from calcification in the coronary artery. Still, Hopkins Medicine points out that the research highlighting the dangers of these supplements is growing.
In addition to increasing your heart disease risk, this supplement may also raise your risk of colon polyps and kidney stones. Most colon polyps are benign, but they need to be removed because they can become cancerous over time. As for kidney stones, calcium-rich foods don’t seem to increase the chance that they form. But there is evidence that supplements do. Calcium makes up about 80 to 90 percent of all kidney stones.
You can still eat calcium.
Calcium is still an important nutrient for your body. It is not only necessary for strong bones, but also, for the proper function of your heart, muscles, and nerves. According to the National Institute of Health, women between 19 and 50 years old consume 1,000 milligrams daily. Women who are 51 years old or older should consume 1,200 milligrams.
About 1 cup of Greek yogurt, 1 cup of cooked spinach, and a can of salmon will put you at nearly 1,400 milligrams. (Canned salmon is particularly rich in this mineral.) Other foods rich in calcium include tofu, oatmeal, and dried figs. With a little mixing and matching, you will likely reach your daily goal.