A large scale review of a group of medical studies surrounding calcium supplements and heart attack is causing many in the medical community to rethink the value of calcium supplements for people with osteoporosis or those trying to prevent it. Based on an analysis of results of studies that totaled over 12,000 older people, on average the incidence of heart attack was between 27 and 31 percent higher in healthy women taking calcium supplements (without vitamin D) than in those on a placebo. The study, published online in the British Medical Journal, suggests that the role of calcium supplements in osteoporosis management should be reassessed. The researchers question whether the number of fractures prevented is worth the higher heart attack rates. How can calcium, a necessary mineral, have this effect? The problem is thought to be that the concentrated calcium in supplements causes a fast rise in blood calcium that can contribute to the formation of plaque (the same plaque caused by high cholesterol too), which, in turn, can lead to heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular events. The alternative suggestion is to get calcium naturally through food—three glasses of milk (no- or low-fat to reduce saturated fat intake) for instance would just about do it—because moderate levels found in food don’t create the spikes in blood calcium. Another recommendation that boosts health in general, is weight-bearing exercise, which protects bone health. Whether you’re taking calcium supplements to manage or just to prevent bone loss, talk to your doctor about whether you should rethink your approach.
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