Calcium Supplements? To Take or Not to Take?

Calcium supplements are a part of a daily regimen for many aging parents and for adult children. Most of these adults take calcium supplements to build stronger bones and avoid osteoporosis. However, new peer-reviewed research suggests that the benefits of taking calcium may be outweighed by increased risk of cardiovascular events.

The July 29th edition of the BMJ, formerly known as British Medical Journal and considered one of the leading medical journals, published interesting and thought-provoking research in an article, Effect of Calcium Supplements on Risk of Myocardial Infarction and Cardiovascular Events: Meta-analysis. Researchers looked at 11 studies, conducting a meta-analysis, which is a statistical method for examining multiple studies and pooling the results. Calcium supplements, they discovered, increased the risk of myocardial events by 30 percent. The average age of the 12,000 participants in the trials was 72 and 83 percent were women. The article, freely available at the BMJ website, concludes:

“Although the magnitude of the increase in risk is modest, the widespread use of calcium supplements means that even a small increase in the incidence of cardiovascular disease could translate into a large burden of disease in the population.”

One sentence in the BMJ article sums up the results in clear language that everyone can understand: “…treatment of 1000 people with calcium for five years would cause an additional 14 myocardial infarctions, 10 strokes, and 13 deaths, and prevent 26 fractures.” In a Reuters article Professor of Medicine Ian Reid, one of the researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, elaborated, “That is 37 more adverse events and we expect 26 fractures being prevented. So calcium is associated with more bad things happening than with bad things prevented.”

When an article of some significance is published in a medical journal, it may be accompanied by an editorial, written by an expert who knows the field but is not involved in the published research. An editorial often assesses the research and addresses potential implications for medical practice. The BMJ editorial, Calcium Supplements in People with Osteoporosis, states the following:

“Calcium supplements, given alone improve bone mineral density, but they are ineffective in reducing the risk of fractures and may even increase the risk, they might even increase the risk of cardiovascular events, and they do not reduce mortality. They seem to be unnecessary in adults with adequate diet. Given the uncertain benefits of calcium supplements, any level of risk is  unwarranted.”

2 thoughts on “Calcium Supplements? To Take or Not to Take?

  1. I guess I’m not all that surprised that there are risks with calcium supplements, but I am surprised that the risks are so pronounced. Thank you for adding the results summed up in “clear language” for all us laymen out there.

    I guess the bright side to all of this is that there is no risk to a healthy diet with natural calcium, which is better for your bones anyway. Suddenly I feel a much stronger need to eat all those leafy green vegetables that are coming up in my garden right now.


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