The Right Calcium Balance Important for Total Health
New research suggests that diet is the best calcium source for all-around health
Over the years, health experts have raised concerns that many people don’t get enough dietary calcium—calcium from food—for good bone health. For many people, supplements have become the go-to solution to fill potential calcium gaps. New research suggests that diet is the best source for all-around health, as a connection between high doses of calcium from supplements and heart attack risk has been observed. For the best protection, the Goldilocks approach—not too little, not too much—appears to be the smartest calcium plan.
Evaluating calcium’s complexities
Researchers interested in the relationship between calcium and heart attacks and stroke risk collected information on diet, supplement use, and other health habits from 23,980 German men and women. The participants were 35 to 65 years old at the start of the study, and none had a history of heart disease or stroke.
The study authors followed the group for approximately 11 years, and accounted for other factors that can affect heart disease and stroke risk, such as age, gender, exercise habits, body weight, diabetes, and smoking and alcohol use, finding that:
Food for thought
This study is observational and cannot prove cause and effect. Still, the findings agree with two other large studies, suggesting something about calcium supplements may be problematic for the cardiovascular system.
Calcium supplements may increase risk in part because they result in large, short-term increases in blood calcium levels, which may harm the heart and blood vessels. This is very different than getting calcium from food, which delivers smaller amounts of calcium throughout the day. Additionally, large calcium doses may lower tissue levels—though blood levels may remain the same—of nutrients that are believed to be important for heart health, such as magnesium. "Many studies have shown that magnesium is beneficial for the heart. If taking large amounts of supplemental calcium has an adverse effect on heart function, that effect might be preventable by taking magnesium along with calcium," says Alan Gaby, MD, Chief Science Editor of Aisle7.
Slow and steady = smart steps to healthy nutrition
Keep these simple tips in mind to help you find the right calcium balance for good health.
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognised expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.