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Some previous studies had warned that taking a calcium supplement might increase a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke. But a new study finds there’s no increased risk to your heart by trying to do good for your bones.

Why it matters:

Calcium supplements are recommended to prevent osteoporosis. Some studies, however, have called this practice into question suggesting that calcium supplementation may increase the risk of heart attacks by about 30 percent. This study, the largest of its kind, may help put this question to rest.

The nitty gritty:

Using health information from over 500,000 men and women in the United Kingdom, researchers evaluated the hospitalization and death rates of those taking calcium, vitamin D, or both (the two are often bundled together), as compared to people not taking either. Researchers found no increased risk for hospitalization due to heart disease, even when controlling for age, BMI, smoking, alcohol consumption, education level, physical activity, and the use of hormone replacement therapy in women. There was also no increased risk of death after hospital admission with heart trouble. The study was presented at the World Congress on Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis, and Musculoskeletal Diseases.


You’ll want to know:

These results were the same regardless of whether participants had previous heart attacks and regardless of their baseline dietary calcium intake, said lead investigator Nicholas Harvey, an epidemiologist at the University of Southampton.

This study provides reassurance about the safety of calcium supplementation, said Harvey. The results “ demonstrate that calcium supplementation, with or without vitamin D supplementation, does not appear to increase the risk of heart attacks or other cardiac events, at least within the age range studied.”


But keep in mind:

The study hasn’t been peer reviewed, and it focused on a relatively young group, ages 40 to 69. “Some of the patients we treat for osteoporosis are much older,” noted Dr. Naim Maalouf, a bone and mineral metabolism specialist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. In an otherwise healthy group, you may not see heart attacks until later, said Dr. Mary Ann McLaughlin, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

In addition, some past studies reported a greater risk with higher doses of calcium. This study didn’t report risk according to calcium dosage, so it’s hard to compare the numbers, pointed out Maalouf. “I usually find out how much calcium patients are getting from their diet and only supplement those who are not getting enough,” said Maalouf.

The bottom line:

It’s important not to overdo it on the calcium. Though this study is large, it is part of a conflicting body of evidence. Until more robust studies demonstrate that supplementation is safe, experts say it’s healthier to increase dietary calcium rather than relying on pills.