Do Calcium Supplements Cause Heart Attacks???


Many women’s peace of mind about taking calcium was shattered In May 2012 when they read the news headline –“calcium supplementation doubles the risk of heart attacks in women.”  If you saw this headline you may be feeling confused about whether or not you should take a calcium supplement to protect your bone health.  There are a few considerations to look at when making that decision.

First we have to review the source of the media frenzy—the study published in the June 2o12 issue of the journal Heart. We find the study shows a link between heart attack risk and taking oral calcium supplements but does not provide evidence that calcium actually causes heart attacks.  In addition, Alan Gaby, MD points out that many of the reported “heart attacks” in the study were not in fact heart attacks but gastrointestinal symptoms misdiagnosed as heart attacks by the patient.  He also brings up the possibility that perhaps it is not calcium that is the problem but the increase requirement of magnesium when taking calcium supplements. My conclusion:  this is a very interesting study but there is not definitive evidence yet showing calcium pills cause heart attacks. More research is likely going to be released in coming months and years that is more conclusive and guidelines will be updated accordingly.

It is important to note that the study did NOT show an association between calcium obtained naturally in food and heart attacks. Once again food is shown to be superior to pills.  In fact it actually showed a decrease in heart attacks when getting adequate calcium from food.  It also found those taking Vitamin D with calcium supplements had lower risk than taking calcium alone. The take home point: eat foods high in calcium and supplement with Vitamin D if you have suboptimal levels to protect bone health.  If you take calcium pills, take Vitamin D and magnesium for added protection.

There are many delicious food options high in calcium.  Fear not if you are lactose intolerant because it is possible to get adequate calcium without consuming dairy products.  There are many excellent sources from vegetables, fruits, nuts, and meat and you may even absorb more calcium from green vegetables than dairy products.  For example, one article printed in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2000 showed your body absorbs 50-70% of calcium from green vegetables but only 32% of calcium from dairy products.

Should I take a calcium supplement?  It depends. Aim for getting your calcium requirements through food. If you are having a very difficult time getting enough calcium from your food—especially if you are at risk for osteoporosis—consider taking the lowest amount of calcium supplement you need.

What kind of calcium supplement should I take? Calcium carbonate is cheap and less bulky than other forms, but not as absorbable. Calcium citrate malate is more bulky so you may have to take more pills but more easily absorbed than other forms.  Take a calcium supplement with Vitamin D and magnesium (300-500mg) for protective effects.

How much calcium should I take in a supplement? Take the lowest amount that will still meet your daily requirement after adding up how much you are getting from food sources. (See chart below)

0-6 months 210 mg Postmenopausal Women not taking HRT 1500 mg
6-12 months 270 mg Pregnant/ lactating women <18 years old 1300 mg
1-3 years 500 mg Pregnant/lactating women >18 years old 1000 mg
4-8 years 800 mg    
9-18 years 1300 mg    
19-50 years 1000 mg    
51 + years 1200 mg    


Food Serving Size Mg of Ca Food Serving Size Mg of Ca
Turnip greens 1 cup 492 Swiss chard 1 cup 138
Torula yeast 1 oz. 490 Baked beans 1 cup 128
Lamb 1 cup 400 Navy beans 1 cup 128
Sardines 3 oz. 372 Black beans 1 cup 103
Soymilk 1 cup 360 Kale 1 cup 94
Collard greens 1 cup 357 Acorn squash 1 cup 90
Rhubarb, cooked 1 cup 348 Almonds 1 ounce 80
Amaranth,cooked 1 cup 276 Seaweed 1 tbsp. 80
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 276 Chickpeas 1 cup 80
Figs, dried 1 cup 241 Sweet potato 1 cup 76
Fortified oats 1 cup 208 Sesame seeds 2 tbsp. 74
Rice milk 1 cup 200 Peas 1 cup 62
Canned salmon 3.5 oz. 185 Pumpkin 1 cup 64
Firm tofu 6 oz. 190 Green beans 1 cup 58
Broccoli 1 cup 180 Orange 1 cup 56
Molasses 1 tbsp. 172 Cabbage 1 cup 56
White beans 1 cup 161 Brussel sprouts 1 cup 56
Bok Choy 1 cup 158 Halibut 3 ounces 51
Mustard greens 1 cup 152 Carrots 1 cup 48


Cheese, cheddar 3 oz. 612 Milk 1 cup 300
Yogurt 1 cup 345 Cottage cheese 1 cup 155


July 10, 2013


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