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|