For almost a decade, when patients asked me this question, the answer was a complex story without a real conclusion. Now we might finally have an answer. First let’s take a look at how all the confusion came about.
More than ten years ago, a group of heart specialists, looking at images of the large vessels, found that some people had deposits of calcium, calcifications, in their arteries. This was concerning because we see calcifications in people with cardiovascular disease. They investigated and discovered that the individuals with calcifications were more likely to take calcium supplements. Immediately, they issued a warning to stop calcium supplements.
As you might imagine, this alarmed the bone specialists who had decades of research of their own showing how important calcium is to prevent broken hips and other fractures. Broken hips are a significant cause of loss of independence if not loss of life.
The controversy stimulated a lot of possible explanations and subsequent investigations. Was the problem calcium as a supplement but not if the calcium came from your food? Was the problem taking calcium but not taking the vitamin D essential for getting calcium into the bones? Was the dose of calcium too high?
Now two very important groups, the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the American Society for Preventive Cardiology, have worked together, looking at the vast number of studies. They analyzed the quality of the studies and synthesized the findings into guidelines. In science and in health, guidelines equal “answers.”
The take away?
Calcium in your food or from a supplement, calcium taken with or without vitamin D, is not linked to heart disease or stroke in healthy adults.
There is no physiological mechanism for calcium to cause heart disease.
And, finally, stopping calcium based on worries about your heart is without scientific support and may actually harm your bones.
Kopecky SL, Bauer DC, Gulati M, et al. Ann Intern Med. 2016 Oct 25 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.7326/M16-1743. PMID: 27776362