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Health Experts Question Calcium Supplements
 Heart Disease Center Feature Story

Health Experts Question Calcium Supplements
It's better to boost bone strength through diet and exercise, they say

Health Experts Question Calcium Supplements (HealthDay News) -- Calcium supplements, though wildly popular, probably aren't doing your bones much good, and they could be putting you at risk of a heart attack.

That finding comes from researchers' analysis of data from 11 randomized, controlled trials, which revealed that people older than 40 who were taking calcium supplements had a nearly 30 percent greater risk for heart attack.

"Calcium supplements don't appear to be a good thing, based on the current evidence," the lead author of the study, Dr. Ian Reid, from the department of medicine in the faculty of medical and health sciences at the University of Auckland, told HealthDay.

"When you look at major trials where people have been randomly assigned to take calcium or placebo, there is an increase in the risk of heart attack in the people who were randomly assigned to take calcium," Reid said. "The extent of that increased risk is enough to completely counterbalance the small beneficial effect that calcium tablets have on numbers of fractures."

However, the researchers didn't express the same type of concern for calcium found naturally in the diet.

"We advise our patients to move away from calcium supplements and move toward eating calcium-rich food as part of a normal balanced diet and to remain physically active," Reid noted.

Foods that are naturally good sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, canned sardines and salmon. Foods that sometimes have calcium added to them include breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soy products and rice beverages, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The analysis, which was published in BMJ and included data from almost 12,000 people, also found a small increase in the risk for stroke in people taking calcium supplements. However, the researchers said this finding wasn't statistically significant.

The analysis also found that the supplements didn't appear to be particularly effective, either. The researchers pointed out that the effects on bone health from taking a calcium supplement appear to be small, and the supplements may not have any effect on fracture risk.

For those concerned about bone health, Reid suggests having a bone density test to assess risk for osteoporosis. "If their risk is high, they should consider using medications rather than calcium supplements," he said.

"Newer treatments, and some old neglected ones, like thiazide diuretics, do reduce fractures and reduce mortality," Dr. John Cleland, author of an editorial accompanying the study, told HealthDay.

"We don't know whether or not you need to take calcium and vitamin D to make them work," added Cleland, who's affiliated with the cardiology department at Castle Hill Hospital and Hull York Medical School at the University of Hull in Kingston upon Hull in the United Kingdom.

Experts do know, he said, that "supplements are a waste of time by themselves, but [whether they] act as adjuvants for effective therapy is not known." Not everyone agrees with the findings of Reid's study.

"I see a very strong conclusion, and I think that [it] is very overstated," Duffy MacKay, vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement industry lobbying group, told HealthDay. "My conclusion to this is [that] here is some preliminary evidence suggesting something we need to look at with additional clinical trials."

On the Web

To learn more about calcium and bone health, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

SOURCES: HealthDay New; Ian Reid, M.D., department of medicine, faculty of medical and health sciences, University of Auckland, New Zealand; John Cleland, M.D., department of cardiology, Castle Hill Hospital, Hull York Medical School, University of Hull, Kingston upon Hull, England; Duffy MacKay, N.D., vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs, Council for Responsible Nutrition, Washington, D.C.; July 30, 2010, BMJ, online; U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements (

Author: Serena Gordon

Publication Date: July 31, 2011

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