Calcium Increasing the Risk of Heart Attack
The field of diet and nutrition is a pretty weird and wonderful world and the closer you get to understanding it, the more bizarre some of its doctrines can start to look. One such example, we are going to take a closer look at, are the health benefits of calcium supplements. One large observational study, following close to 24,000 participants of the prestigious EPIC study, recently revealed that regular consumers of calcium supplements were nearly doubling their risk of heart attack (myocardial infarction) when compared to non-users of calcium supplements. This is no big surprise anymore, as researchers have been questioning the health benefits of regular use of calcium supplements for a while now. Already in 2010, a meta-analysis of trials revealed that using calcium supplements was associated with ca. 30% increased risk of myocardial infarction. Given the obvious risks for heart health, this finding has led to calls for a re-evaluation of the extensive promotion and use of calcium supplements in the prevention of osteoporosis.
The bizarre thing about all of this is that contrary to widespread belief, calcium supplementation is not really effective at fending off osteoporosis anyway. This does not mean to say that you would not need calcium for bone health, you certainly do. But the ability of calcium supplements to help prevent fractures is at best modest – amounting to just about 10% decrease in total fractures. Hence, it raises the question, why are we so obsessed with calcium when it comes to bone health and preventing osteoporosis?
In fact, the idea of artificially increasing our calcium intake in order to promote strong bones is terribly simplistic. Bone is metabolically active tissue, where bits of old bones are constantly being replaced with new bone (this process is known as bone remodelling). This complex and dynamic process is affected not only by calcium but by an array of other nutritional, dietary and lifestyle factors. Instead of just swallowing calcium tabs, we should think about bone health as requiring sophisticated and complex nutritional support. Essentially, this would require ensuring optimal vitamin D levels in the body, along with getting enough of other key nutrients necessary for bone health such as magnesium and vitamin K, particularly in the form of vitamin K2, which is gaining interest of many researchers recently because of its bone preserving properties.
With regards to promoting bone health, getting all elements of the diet right is essential. This involves consuming alkaline-forming foods, especially a diet rich in potassium bicarbonate-rich fruits and vegetables. In fact, the evidence is mounting to support the assumption that fruits and vegetables promote bone health and could be regarded as one of the key protective factors. Providing sufficient intake of protein is also important and it should be regarded as being as essential as calcium and vitamin D in terms of ensuring bone health. Lowering the salt consumption, curbing alcohol intake and drinking green tea are strategies that are likely to benefit your health too. And that is before we even mention strenuous weight-loss exercise.
It can be concluded that the health problems caused by the overuse of calcium supplements are symptomatic of the terribly simplistic concept that bones need calcium and the more we supply them, the better. This old concept seems to be flawed and it is about time to stop this bone-headed thinking once and for all.