Zurich, Switzerland—The international peer review journal Heart printed a study from Switzerland on dietary calcium and supplement intake and the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The study collected data from 23,980 participants aged 35–64 over 11 years to determine the effectiveness of calcium on decreasing the risk of heart disease. However, at the conclusion of the study—with totals of 354 heart attacks, 260 stroke cases and 267 cardiovascular-related deaths reported—users of the calcium supplements had a significantly higher risk of heart disease than non-users, leading the team to conclude that high calcium intake might not have significant heart benefits and supplements may in fact increase risk.

Cara Welch, Ph.D., vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Natural Products Association (NPA), disagrees, stating, “The sub-population this study looked at, users of calcium supplements alone, was very small compared to the total group, with an older average age as well as a longer duration of smoking. Meanwhile, the benefits of calcium are well-accepted. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a health claim on the use of calcium with regard to osteoporosis.”

But this is not the first time calcium has been linked to risk of health disease. In March 2012, WholeFoods printed an article from Carolyn Dean, medical director for the Nutritional Magnesium Association (NMA), about the need to balance calcium intake with magnesium. A high calcium–low magnesium intake ratio could lead to hardening of the arteries (i.e., atherosclerosis—the number one cause of death in the United States), osteoporosis and osteoporotic bone fractures. “We should be careful about being swayed too much by any one study,” says Dean of the study. “Issues of mineral balance are complex and over simplifying them into headlines and news bites does the consumer a disservice. Calcium is an important mineral but an overabundance of it can be a serious problem.”

Along with Dean, some say that without proper supplementation, calcium alone cannot reach its healthiest potential. In WholeFoods’ April 2011 Vitamin Connection column, “K2 and You,” Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D., discusses the necessity of pairing calcium with vitamin K2, stating, “calcium cannot fully benefit the bones without vitamin K2. It is responsible for depositing calcium where it is needed, such as in the bones and teeth, and prevents calcium from accumulating in soft tissue or in the arteries. Without adequate amounts of vitamin K2, some calcium can end up in places it does not belong…It is extremely important that calcium be deposited in the proper places, because correct deposition can prevent certain diseases.”

Of the study, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) says, “Calcium is an important mineral with proven benefits for bone health and a long history of safe use backed by an extensive body of observational and clinical studies that supports its use for reducing the risk for osteoporosis and hip, bone and other fractures…Our advice is for consumers to be aware of how much calcium they get from their diet, supplement with calcium if needed, and check with their doctor or other healthcare practitioner to determine their own personal needs.”


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2012 (online 6/4/12)