Respected health organizations such as the National Osteoporosis Foundation and American Bone Health have long recommended calcium with vitamin D supplementation as a public health intervention to reduce fracture risk. Many people (43% of adults in the U.S.), primarily postmenopausal women, take supplemental calcium to treat or prevent age-related bone loss and the onset of osteoporotic fractures. Recently this common intervention strategy has been mitigated by media reports that too much calcium from supplements (but not food) may increase one’s risk of heart attacks and other heart problems.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation and the American Society for Preventive Cardiology recently gathered expert scientists in the fields of nutrition, cardiology and bone health to examine the evidence behind this widespread theory. The position statement which published in Annals of Internal Medicine found no relationship between supplemental calcium intake and the risk of heart attacks and/or cardiovascular disease (click here). There are literally dozens of human studies examining this issue with one commonality… they fail to find any harmful effects. The position statement was based upon a systematic review and meta-analysis of the scientific literature, prepared by independent researchers and statisticians at Tufts University (click here).
So what about the 3-4 studies that constantly make headline news? Most of the studies are from one lab group in New Zealand; many scientists and statisticians have tried but failed to reproduce those results (even when using the same dataset).
Additionally, new animal data published in the Journal of the American Heart Association fails to find any biological mechanism (i.e. any reason) that calcium supplements would increase heart problems (click here).
So what’s the take away message? The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (convened by the U.S. government) recently reaffirmed both calcium and vitamin D as nutrients of “public health concern” because their under-consumption by a large portion of the U.S. population has been linked to adverse health outcomes (i.e. increased risk of bone fractures). If you aren’t consuming 3 servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy every day, you need to supplement with 300 mg of calcium per each absent serving. It will help strengthen your bones in the long run. Remember that your body only absorbs 500-600 mg calcium at a time. So it’s important to take supplements in smaller doses throughout the day with meals.
Interested in learning more? Check out the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s recommendations for calcium and vitamin D intake (click here) and the recent presentation I gave at the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research Annual Meeting (click here). Jen Reviews also has a great comprehensive review of the amazing health benefits of vitamin D (click here).