“Calcium pills increase the risk of heart attacks” was the latest worrying headline for many a little while ago. As if we don’t have enough to worry about now our trusted and protective calcium dose is out to get us! However, this is not really new news. Taking pure elemental calcium has always been questioned in connection with unwanted calcification of soft tissues and potentially associated with the calcium-based plaques seen in the walls of diseased blood vessels. The current study, published in July issue of the BMJ, took this a stage further by suggesting that those who took elemental calcium in doses of 500mg or more were increasing their risk of a heart attack. The BMJ study analysed 11 previous studies covering some 11,921 people over 4 years. Out of these people 296 had heart attacks of which 166 were taking calcium (over 500mg/day) and the rest (130) were on placebos. The trial participants were mostly female, and the trial only involved elemental calcium, not calcium combined with vitamin D or any other nutrient. In fact, studies that used calcium and vitamin D combinations were actively excluded from the analysis. When the numbers were statistically crunched elemental calcium appeared to increase the risk of a heart attack by roughly 30%. Oddly enough in 2008 the BBC reported on research conducted at the University of Minnesota that showed owning a cat appears to reduce the risk of a heart attack by 40%; could buying a cat be an antidote to the problem?
On a more clinical note, the reassuring aspect of this story is that pure elemental calcium, taken in isolation, appears to be the issue. Personally, I can’t remember the last time I came across a patient that was taking pure calcium in the absence of other key factors such as vitamin D or vitamin K or as part of a multiple bone complex, such as OsteoPrime. I feel reassurance is needed in these cases where the benefits clearly outweigh the risks for bone health.