Calcium in one of the most important minerals to the human body. We begin calcium intake from the time of our birth, and over time we have developed supplements to increase our calcium intake. Data suggests that almost half the population of the United States takes additional calcium supplements. A large portion of this population includes older women. Up until now, the intake of calcium supplements only meant aid our bones, however, recent studies have shown that the intake of these supplements may actually be harmful for our hearts. One such research experiment took place at the hands of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, an organization that funded research projects at six different universities. One of the six was Josh Hopkins University and it’s research team looked at data from 2,742 over a period of 10 years.
The study was observational and highly detailed. The university recorded dietary and medicinal intakes of these participants and took two CT scans to see the effects of supplements on the heart. Based on conclusions of previous researchers showed that in older people, calcium intakes don’t make it to the skeleton and often get absorbed by other soft tissue in the body. They also tend to form plaques and block arteries and blood vessels. Hence the researchers expected high supplemental intake would show high risks of heart disease through the CT scans. The image above is an example of one such CT scan showing the amount of calcification (the deposit of calcium in the arteries) in a heart. The more amount of calcification would mean higher chances of getting heart diseases.
As mentioned earlier, the researchers took detailed information about the participant’s daily diets. They did this to measure the total amount of calcium intake and also to determine how much was being ingested through natural means or through supplements. The first CT scan was taken at the beginning of the 10 year period, and it showed that of the 2,742 participants, 1,175 already had some quantities of plaque in their arteries. In order to get definite conclusions, the researchers had to take into account third variables like age, consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, medical history etc. All of these factors can have direct impact on heart disease and can be a possible cause of damage to heart instead of the calcium supplements.
The researchers at the University also felt that it was important to note the differences in effects on hearts based on the type of calcium intake. They wanted to find out whether it was the consumption of excessive Calcium supplements or the Calcium itself that can harm the heart. The results of the second CT scan for people with high calcium intake through natural resources such as milk, veggies etc showed that they had little signs of calcification than those who had low intakes from the same products. Hence the researchers concluded that high intakes of calcium through food is in fact beneficial to us rather than being harmful. However, the same cannot be said about those who consume large amounts of calcium supplements. CT scans of such participants(46% ) showed an increased risk of heart diseases by approximately 22%. The reasons for such a big impact through supplements and the complete opposite through food seem unclear. However, a professor from the University of North Carolina suggested that it may be because of a difference in the concentration of Calcium. The calcium ingested through foods are often present in low quantities, and are accompanied with other minerals. On the other hand, calcium ingested through supplements have larger quantities of pure calcium in them. It is possible that our body finds it harder to cope with the later form of Calcium.
The conclusion of the researchers at John Hopkins and other universities however are not agreed upon by everyone. Some studies have found that the use of supplements have in fact reduced risks of heart attacks in women. Seeing such varying conclusions, the use of Calcium supplements has become quite the controversial topic amongst scientists and doctors. There are still on-going studies on the issue, however, in the meant time it may be beneficial to consult a doctor and past medical history before consuming supplements.
- “Calcium Supplements May Damage the Heart.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 Oct. 2016. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.
- @BerkeleyWell. “Calcium in the Spotlight.” @berkeleywellness. N.p., 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.
- “Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium — Health Professional Fact Sheet.”U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.