Friday, May 25, 2012

Calcium Pills Raise Concerns -- Again!

If you've heard me say it once, you probably have heard me say it many times -- taking dietary supplements in the absence of known deficiency is a mistake. One of the more controversial supplements I've rallied against has been calcium. Most women are told by their doctors, particularly as they get older, to take calcium supplements, usually about 1,000 mg.

When I give lectures, I often ask of the audience whose doctor adjusted their calcium recommendation based on the calcium the individual consumes through his or her food. The answer is almost always that none of their doctors made any such adjustment. I've always considered this problematic because why supplement at all if you are getting sufficient calcium in your diet, and why not adjust when you are getting calcium from other sources.

My real concerns about calcium began to grow almost two years ago when studies began to emerge challenging the wisdom of taking this supplement.  Specifically, these studies linked calcium supplementation with increased heart attack risks. Some studies suggested the mechanism for this, calcium supplements, were contributing to calcification, or hardening, of the heart.

So a new study that just came out should be of no surprise to my patients.

The large European study showed that people taking calcium supplements had nearly double the risk of heart attack as individuals not taking any dietary supplements. Among 23,980 participants in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Heidelberg) study, the hazard ratio for heart attack in those using calcium supplements, compared with nonusers of supplements, was increased according to Sabine Rohrmann, MD, of the University of Zurich in Switzerland, and colleagues.

"This study suggests that increasing dietary calcium intake from diet might not confer significant cardiovascular benefits, while calcium supplements, which might raise MI risk, should be taken with caution," the researchers concluded. In an accompanying editorial, two New Zealand physicians went further and suggested that use of calcium supplements should be actively discouraged.
 
This was an imperfect study as it was an observational study that relies on self-reporting. Nevertheless, once again, the red flag rises over taking calcium pills, or any dietary supplement for that matter. The evidence continues to mount that at best they confer no benefit, and at worst, they are harmful.

Eat a Mediterranean diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and some whole grains, add in some wild fish and save yourself some money from not buying unnecessary pills.

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