Putting the “killer calcium” myth out to pasture

There’s a common misconception out there that really needs to be put out to pasture. So I’m going to write about it — again. Because I know as well as anyone that medical myths die hard.

In fact, a patient of mine — and I consider all my patients to be incredibly well versed in health matters — asked me about this very topic just last week.

So today, I’m setting out to bury the notion that calcium is bad for your heart, once and for all.

There was a time when the only thing a person taking calcium supplements had to worry about was a slight increase in kidney stone risk — and maybe some indigestion. But all of that changed in recent years, thanks to a small group of researchers with a bone to pick.

Long story short, a handful of studies showed that calcium supplements — easily one of the most common nutritional supplements out there — may raise the risk of heart attack in both women and men.

Needless to say, these findings made massive, worldwide headline news. And believe me when I say that there was absolutely NO reason for the drawn out witch hunt that ensued — except for the mainstream’s shameless bias against nutritional supplements.

Hopefully, though, a new analysis of this supposed association will help to undo some of the damage to calcium’s reputation.

Its results were presented at the World Congress on Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis, and Musculoskeletal Diseases in Spain this past April. And its conclusion was convincing, to say the least. (Though you probably didn’t see any headlines for this story… as usual.)

According to data from more than half a million people between the ages of 40 and 69 — calcium supplements DO NOT raise heart disease risk in men or women, whether taken with vitamin D or not.

As part of this seven-year study, researchers evaluated subjects’ calcium and vitamin D supplementation against hospital admissions for heart disease, other cardiovascular events, and death.

Among the subjects, just shy of 35,000 were taking calcium. And just over 20,000 were supplementing with vitamin D. (A mere two percent of this subject pool was taking both supplements together — a sad figure that really should be getting more attention.)

Analysis in every possible direction revealed that there were no associations whatsoever between calcium supplementation and risk of hospitalization for heart disease or any other cardiovascular event. And no evident increase in mortality risk from any of these conditions, either.

This finding stuck, even after researchers adjusted for hormone replacement in women — along with a whole lot of other confounding factors, like age, BMI, and medication use. And it didn’t change for patients with a history of heart disease, either.

As far as I’m concerned, that more than settles it.

Both calcium and vitamin D — and yes, they should always be taken together — are absolutely critical for bone health. And there’s no question that it’s really tough for elderly people to achieve necessary intakes of either nutrient without taking a daily supplement.

But it’s not just the elderly who need to be worried here. If you wait until you have osteoporosis or even osteopenia to begin supplementation, you’re already too late. Ideally, women need to start supplementing in their 20s — and men in their 30s — to lock down bone health in old age.

That’s why my recommendations have never changed. Take 500 mg of calcium in tablet form every day. And take at least 2,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 along with it.