Can Calcium Help Your Heart?

You know getting adequate calcium can boost bone health. Learn how it could benefit your cardiovascular system, too.

Medically reviewed in March 2021

Calcium’s benefits for bone health are well-known, but can it help your heart? A South Korean study of nearly 5,000 people presented at the Endocrine Society’s 2016 meeting suggested it might. Researchers found that older women with higher dietary calcium intake had a lower risk of heart disease. Other studies, however, have found that calcium supplements don’t help heart health—and may actually increase your odds of problems.

So, what’s the story?

Calcium’s role in the heart
Calcium plays an important role in heart function at the cellular level, says Chitradeep De, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte, Florida. “For the heart to pump, the cells of the heart need calcium,” he says. “Calcium goes out [of the cells], the muscle contracts. Calcium goes in, the muscle relaxes.”

Conflicting research
Does that mean you should you raise your calcium intake to protect your heart? Not so fast, says Dr. De. “I’m not completely sold that calcium is helpful in preventing heart disease,” he says. “Studies go both ways.”

In fact, some studies suggest that taking calcium supplements increases the risk of heart troubles, according to a 2021 seminar published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. For example, a 2012 German study of nearly 24,000 people found that supplements were linked to higher chances of heart attack.

Similar results were seen in a 10-year, 2,700-person study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in October 2016. People who took calcium supplements were 22 percent more likely to have coronary artery calcification, which is an indication of coronary artery disease. But people with the highest calcium intake—from both diet and supplements—were 27 percent less likely to develop coronary artery disease than people with the lowest intake. A 2015 meta-analysis, meanwhile, found no increased risk of heart disease in elderly women who took calcium supplements.

Even in the Endocrine Society’s 2016 South Korea study, “there’s a correlation between supplemental calcium and reduced cardiac outcomes, but it’s a loose association,” says De. “It’s almost saying that calcium could be one of the causes or it could be chance.”

De adds that cardiologists don’t recommend increasing your calcium for heart health and the American Heart Association has no guidelines concerning calcium.

Calcium’s proven benefits
Calcium has been shown to increase bone strength and improve bone health. If you don’t consume enough calcium from food or supplements, your body may pull the calcium it needs from your bones. This may lead to weaker bones and eventually, osteoporosis, a condition characterized by bone density loss.

Doctors recommend adults between ages 19 and 50 get about 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Men between ages 51 and 75 should shoot for the same. Adults over age 75 and women from 51 to 75 should aim for about 1,200 mg daily.

4 better heart boosters
Eating more calcium may not boost your heart’s health, but what you eat still affects your heart. These four heart-healthy foods will keep your ticker ticking away.

Fish: The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week. Some fish, notably salmon, mackerel, sea bass, shrimp, trout and sardines, are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which protect against arrhythmia, reduce levels of triglycerides and slow the buildup of plaque in the arteries.

Beans: Packed with protein, fiber and nutrients, beans are excellent for your cardiovascular health. Adding beans to a diabetes-friendly diet reduced coronary artery disease risk in people with diabetes, according to a 2012 study in JAMA Internal Medicine. That’s significant because diabetes increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Berries: Not only are they delicious, but berries are also thought to reduce inflammation and lower levels of LDL (aka “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides.

Nuts: From almonds to pistachios, cashews to pecans, nuts are little health boons. They’re rife with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Walnuts, which are high in omega-3s, are especially good for your heart. Don’t go nuts, though. They might be nutrient-dense but they’re also calorie-dense, so keep it to a handful.

Sources:

Science Daily. “More dietary calcium may lower risk of cardiovascular disease.” April 3, 2016.
K Li, R Kaaks, et al. “Associations of dietary calcium intake and calcium supplementation with myocardial infarction and stroke risk and overall cardiovascular mortality in the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study (EPIC-Heidelberg).” Heart 2012;98:920-925.
JJB Anderson, B Kruszka, et al. “Calcium Intake From Diet and Supplements and the Risk of Coronary Artery Calcification and its Progression Among Older Adults: 10‐Year Follow‐up of the Multi‐Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).” Journal of the American Heart Association. October 2016.
JR Lewis, S Radavelli-Bagatini, et al. “The Effects of Calcium Supplementation on Verified Coronary Heart Disease Hospitalization and Death in Postmenopausal Women: A Collaborative Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. January 2015, Volume 30, Issue 1, pages 165-175.
OrthoInfo. “Calcium, Nutrition, and Bone Health.” July 2012. Accessed March 15, 2021.
AC Skulas-Ray, PM Kris-Etherton, et al. “Dose-response effects of omega-3 fatty acids on triglycerides, inflammation, and endothelial function in healthy persons with moderate hypertriglyceridemia.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Volume 93, Issue 2, February 2011, Pages 243–252.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “7 Things To Know About Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” 2021. March 15, 2021.
ED Michos, M Cainzos-Achirica, et al. “Vitamin D, Calcium Supplements, and Implications for Cardiovascular Health: JACC Focus Seminar.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2021 Feb 2;77(4):437-449.
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. “Calcium.” March 26, 2020. Accessed March 15, 2021.
Natalie Olsen. “What are the best sources of omega-3?” Medical News Today. January 20, 2020.
JJ DiNicolantonio, J OKeefe. “The benefits of marine omega-3s for preventing arrhythmias.” BMJ OpenHeart. 2020;7:e000904.
DJA Jenkins, CWC Kendall, et al. “Effect of Legumes as Part of a Low Glycemic Index Diet on Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Archives of Internal Medicine. 2012;172(21):1653–1660.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “The Heart Test You May Need—but Likely Haven’t Heard of.” 2021. Accessed April 2, 2021.

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