Calcium supplements are building bones and breaking hearts

plastering the blood vessel with calcium Calcium supplements are building bones and breaking heartsCrumbling bones (osteoporosis) are a big worry for most post menopausal women, since the departure of estrogen initiates a slow, but steady slip in the body’s bone mass.

The “fix”, is to stuff mega amounts of calcium in – preferably through a specially formulated, not so cheap, calcium supplement.

Calcium the two edged sword

Calcium ranks as a superhero in body chemistry. It’s most notable job, is to build the skeleton which holds you up, but calcium does a lot more than build strong bones and teeth.

Calcium plays a very prominent role in cell talk – the calcium language is used to get cells “moving”. For example, muscles cells know whether to crunch up (contract) or whether to sit back and relax, based on how much calcium is floating about inside the cell.

So too little calcium is not a health move and there is tons of scientific studies that show higher calcium levels build strong bones and protect against metabolic imbalances.

But too much calcium inside blood vessels, is a health problem….

Calcification stiffening blood vessels

Calcium is a key component of plaque – it’s not just made of cholesterol, atherosclerotic plaques have sizeable amounts of calcium in the mix.

The accumulation of calcium in the blood vessels makes the blood vessels stiff, effectively “hardening the arteries”. Inflexible blood vessels are like solid pipes, unable to expand and contract as the blood whooshes round – this inflexibility contributes to rising blood pressure levels ,because there is not enough give in the pipes. Broken blood vessels are the underlying problem in cardiovascular disease.

So where does the calcium which is stiffening the blood vessels come from ?

Calcium supplements contribute to calcification

Several studies suggest some of it at least, could be coming from those calcium supplements.

The latest study, implicating calcium supplements in blood vessel troubles comes from Germany.

The study includes 24 000 people who have been tracked for over 10 years. The people who signed up for the study were between the ages of 35 and 64 years old when the study began. The participants have been quizzed about their eating habits, as well as their supplement habits every year and significant health events have been documented. 354 heart attacks, 260 strokes, and 267 associated deaths have occurred so far.

When the numbers were crunched – the “calcium” effect was complicated. People getting at least 825 mg of calcium a day, were less likely to have a heart attack – so taking calcium was helpful.

But once calcium intake increased, the story changed a little. The study found is was not how much calcium the person was taking, so much as where the calcium was coming from that determined the risk of a cardiovascular event i.e. the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

People taking calcium supplements ended up being at a significantly higher risk of having a cardiovascular event. The calculation suggests the risk was around 86 % higher. This is a big enough number to sit up and take notice !

So to summarize…

  • Too little calcium is bad for your heart
  • Getting the right amount of calcium is good for your heart
  • Getting lots of calcium from your diet, is neither good nor bad
  • Getting lots of calcium via a pill, is bad – very bad.

Too much of a good thing all at once

More of something is not always better… there is a difference between physiological doses which are the normal levels mother nature intends you to get, and pharmacological doses.

Researchers speculate the trouble is arising because a supplement causes calcium levels in the blood to rise extremely high, immediately after ingestion of the pill. The extremely high levels of calcium or calcium spikes, are triggering calcium sensitive receptors on vascular smooth muscle.

Calcium part of a balanced diet

Get enough calcium to protect your bones, by including calcium rich foods in your diet throughout the day. If this is not an option and you “need” to supplement.

Use the supplement wisely.

  • Limit the dose – you don’t need a mega dose
  • Take it with food
  • Split the dose over the day

NB. There is more to strong bones than calcium. The bone mafia includes vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin K and there are a host of two bit players like manganese, strontium and boron etc.

Calcium supplements with or without vitamin D and risk of cardiovascular events: reanalysis of the Women’s Health Initiative limited access dataset and meta-analysis. BMJ, 2011; 342 (apr19 1): d2040 M. J. Bolland, A. Grey, A. Avenell, G. D. Gamble, I. R. Reid.

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Further reading 

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 The 7 Big Spoons™…. are master switches that turn health on.

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