Surprising Truths about Calcium Supplements
Calcium is the most widely consumed supplement in the world, and yet new research suggests that traditional calcium supplements may be harmful, and even deadly, when taken alone, unaccompanied by other nutrients. The safety and efficacy of Calcium supplements has been called into question by European scientists, and subsequently concerns over these issues have been growing in America.
The supplement world was most recently alarmed by a claim made by German scientists that calcium supplements cause heart attacks. In the summer of 2010, this group of scientists worked to prove that those who consume calcium supplements have an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Their research demonstrated that individuals who take traditional calcium supplements have an increased risk of death from heart attack in particular. While this was a disturbing discovery, contrary to their hypothesis, no other cardiovascular-related problems were linked with calcium intake through supplementation.
Studies on the Danger of Calcium Supplements
In a recently published study, these scientists reported that they followed approximately 24,000 patients between the ages of 35 and 64 for eleven years. While they assert that this sampling demonstrated that calcium supplements are linked with an increased risk of death by heart attack, curiously they found that those who had the greatest dairy calcium intake (from food sources, not supplements) were found to have a reduced risk of heart attack.
In addition, those who took calcium supplements (and those who consumed calcium from dietary sources) did not have an increased risk of stroke or death relating to cardiovascular disease. Therefore, there is no evidence that calcium intake, whether in supplement form or from food, has any link to complications resulting from cardiovascular disease, with the notable exception of heart attack in the case of calcium supplements.
The concern over the potential risks of taking calcium supplements was reaffirmed in a study that was conducted by Swiss scientists and was published in May of this year. This study involved approximately 325 patients who were awaiting surgery for non-cardiovascular related issues. Prior to their surgeries, the patients were evaluated to determine their cardiovascular risk factors. Then, just over a month after their surgeries, researchers discovered that those who were found to have the highest levels of calcium in their coronary arteries also had the highest incidences of cardiovascular problems. Correspondingly, those who had the lowest levels of calcium in their coronary arteries had the lowest incidences of cardio events. Cardio events include such occurrences as heart attack, stroke, and death.
Both studies have demonstrated that calcium supplements, and not calcium derived from food, can increase the risk of sudden death due to heart attack, but that no form of calcium causes other cardiovascular problems. The problem lies in the consumption of calcium by itself, without the combination of other nutrients which work synergistically with the mineral. In calcium rich foods, there are other nutrients present which help deliver the calcium to the bones and prevent it from building up in the walls of coronary arteries. Therefore, it is important to understand that when taking calcium supplements, the supplement should combine calcium with other nutrients which will counteract the possibility of calcium deposits building up in the coronary arteries or which will reduce the negative effects of this condition. There are several nutrients which can be combined with calcium to accomplish this.
The Benefit of Fish Oil When Taken with Calcium
Arterial plaque is comprised mostly of calcium, and it can break off and clog the artery thereby causing sudden death. This is typically the kind of sudden death heart attack which is linked with calcium supplementation. However, if a calcium supplement is taken in conjunction with fish oil, this problem could be averted. Fish oil prevents blood platelets from sticking so that the blood becomes more slippery and thus more likely to be able to slip around a plaque deposit without breaking it off. If you currently take a calcium supplement, it may be wise to add a fish oil supplement to your regimen.
Because calcium taken by itself, i.e., in supplement form, can cause a heart attack while calcium intake via food sources is safe, calcium supplements should be taken with fish oil, vitamin D, or other vitamins or minerals that may be found in food sources along with calcium, and which will aid calcium absorption and support cardiovascular health.
Many vitamin manufacturers are now creating calcium supplements which are formulated with additional vitamins and minerals, and magnesium is proving to be one of the best in terms of making calcium supplementation safer and more beneficial. Calcium cannot be absorbed without magnesium, and while traditional formulas for calcium supplements contained a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium, this new research has prompted manufacturers to adjust formulations to reflect a 1:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium. This adjustment will help to protect consumers from the danger of isolated calcium intake.
Americans and Calcium Consumption
Americans currently have the highest rate of calcium consumption in the world- and Americans consume ten times the recommended allowance. However, at the same time, Americans have the highest occurrences of osteoporosis. This shocking fact indicates that the calcium Americans are consuming is not being properly absorbed, and is therefore causing more harm than good.
All of this research points toward the truth that consuming calcium alone is dangerous, but taking it in conjunction with other nutrients can be very beneficial to one’s health.
Other Nutrients to Look for In Calcium Supplements:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K2
In terms of bone health, it makes perfect sense to combine calcium with other nutrients, because bones themselves are comprised of a range of other minerals in addition to calcium. There are other nutrients besides calcium found in dietary sources of calcium, and this accounts for the fact that there is no negative correlation between calcium from food sources and the risk of heart attack.
For years many supplement manufacturers have combined vitamin D with calcium to make calcium more absorbable, therefore making calcium more directly available to the bones, but vitamin D also provides health benefits beyond bone health. Similarly, while magnesium supports bone health along with calcium, it also supports other areas of health, including cardiovascular health. Thus, magnesium is likely to play an increasingly important role in calcium supplements.
Other Benefits of Magnesium:
- Supports Cognitive Health
- Supports Sleep
- Supports Memory
- Reduces Anxiety
Calcium and Vitamin K2: A Dynamic Combination
Vitamin K2 is another important vitamin which should be included in calcium supplements. Vitamin K2 can actually remove calcium from the arteries and deposit it in the bones, thereby accomplishing a dual purpose for safety and health. In this way it increases the efficacy of calcium, enabling it to do what it is intended to do as a supplement while mitigating the risk of heart attack. For these reasons, vitamin K2 may be the most important nutrient in terms of supporting both bone health and cardiovascular health in calcium supplementation.
Other Benefits of Vitamin K2 (particularly the longer-chain menaquinone-7 form):
- Improves Bone Strength
- Prevents Cardiovascular Aging
The recent research that has been conducted to determine the risks and benefits of calcium has done a great deal to influence the supplement industry. Now that we know that taking calcium alone may be harmful to one’s health, manufacturers are taking action to incorporate co-nutrients in order to negate the risks and maximize the positive effects of taking calcium supplements.
When considering which calcium supplement to purchase, it is important to be sure that you are not taking calcium alone. Instead, choose a high quality supplement that includes a variety of co-factors which build bone density and support cardiovascular health. It is recommended that vitamin K2 be included in calcium supplements, and many forward-thinking manufacturers have already incorporated this vitamin into their calcium formulations. As the research becomes more widely known, it is likely that more and more manufacturers will include co-factors, including vitamin K2, in order to provide the best possible results for bone health and the safest formulation in support of cardiovascular health.
Ongoing research on popular vitamins and supplements shapes the industry and informs the consumer on how best to manage and support his or her health. While supplements are designed with the consumer’s health in mind based on available research and new clinical trials and studies, there are discrepancies at times in the way in which a nutrient is consumed, or in the amount consumed. In recent years there have been concerns regarding the over-consumption of calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients, particularly in America, and so it is essential to make sure you are taking the right amount of each nutrient.
While supplements should not be abandoned altogether so as to avoid potential risks, it is important to choose supplements carefully. Many supplements provide significant health benefits which should not be dismissed, and the best way to maximize your health is to make informed, educated decisions regarding which supplements, and which manufacturers, are best for you. The new research we are seeing in recent years aids us in this process and is intended to help people manage their health in the best possible ways.