Navigating the Calcium Conundrum: Dietary vs. Supplemental Sources

Calcium sources
Let’s explore the complex relationship between calcium, vitamin D supplements, and stroke risk and what a new study shows. You’ll also discover the role of vitamin K2 in bone health and why dietary sources might be a safer choice. Get expert insights and make informed decisions for your well-being.

In today’s fast-paced world, we need more focus on health than ever. Health is what helps us power through those busy days when it seems our to-do list keeps getting longer and longer. It gives us the stamina to conquer our goals!

It’s also no secret that for healthy bones and teeth, you need calcium. To meet your body’s calcium needs, you might be tempted to take a calcium supplement. But there are some reasons to get calcium through diet rather than supplements unless your doctor recommends that you take a supplement instead.

Why is adequate dietary calcium a must? You need calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones. Plus, you need vitamin D for a balanced immune system, but there may be downsides to taking them in supplement form, at least together Some studies even question the safety of taking calcium supplements at all, especially if you can get calcium from dietary sources.

How Combining Calcium and Vitamin D Affects Health

A study published in the esteemed Annals of Internal Medicine delves deeper into how combining calcium and vitamin D supplements affects your health. The findings were surprising! It showed that taking both supplements concurrently might raise the risk of stroke by 17 percent.

But before ditching your calcium supplement, keep this in mind. Not all studies show taking both calcium and vitamin D in supplement form elevates the risk of stroke. To add to the confusion, a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that taking calcium supplements alone (without vitamin D) increased the risk of ischemic strokes, the most prevalent type, while vitamin D supplements seemed to mitigate this risk.

Why the discrepancy? These studies use observational data rather than randomized controlled trials. Only the latter can determine cause and effect. Therefore, we can’t draw firm conclusions. What scientists can say is there is an association between taking calcium supplements and a higher risk of stroke.

To better understand, let’s look at calcium’s role in the body. Calcium is a key element for bone integrity and strength.  You also need It on a minute-by-minute basis to regulate various processes that keep you alive, for example, you need calcium for muscle contractions and to regulate your heartbeat.

However, like most things related to diet, moderation is key. When there’s excess calcium in your bloodstream, it can cause calcium deposits to form in your arteries causing them to harden. This process, known as arterial calcification, poses a risk of heart attack or stroke.

The Importance of Dietary Sources of Calcium

Given the conflicting information, how should you proceed? Have a candid conversation with your healthcare provider to dissect the advantages and disadvantages of calcium supplements for your unique situation. While securing calcium from dietary staples like dairy products, sardines, leafy greens, and seeds demands more thoughtful planning, it’s the safer route, particularly if you are concurrently consuming vitamin D supplements. Should you find it challenging to attain sufficient calcium through dietary avenues, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should take a supplement.

Is the Missing Element Vitamin K2?

You may have heard of vitamin K1, the form of vitamin K abundant in leafy greens. But there’s another form that’s important for health too – vitamin K2. Your gut microbiome can convert some of the vitamin K1 you get from leafy vegetables to vitamin K2, but it’s not very efficient at doing so. Most people are not getting enough vitamin K2 in their diet.

Could your diet benefit from more vitamin K2-rich foods? Emerging research indicates a potential role for vitamin K2 in directing calcium more effectively, channeling it towards bone tissue. Here, it can bolster bone health, while diverting it away from the inner arterial walls where it could compromise their integrity and heighten the likelihood of stroke.

A study featured in the British Medical Journal points out that vitamin K deficiency is common in the Western diet. Moreover, vitamin K2 could safeguard against unwanted calcification of arteries and also reduce their stiffness. So, vitamin K2 could help calcium “go to the right place,” your bones, rather than ending up in a place (your arteries) where it could cause damage.

Sources of Vitamin K2:

  • Fermented foods: Natto, which is made from fermented soybeans, stands out as an excellent natural reservoir of vitamin K2. Sauerkraut also contains some vitamin K2, as does kefir.
  • Organ meats: Considering the fat-soluble nature of vitamin K2 organ meats, particularly liver, pack significant quantities of vitamin K2.
  • Dairy products: Notably, hard cheeses such as Gouda and cheddar are sources of vitamin K2. Grass-fed butter and ghee also contain vitamin K2.
  • Eggs: Opting for pasture-raised ones will ensure a favorable supply of vitamin K2.
  • Meat: Chicken and beef liver are reliable sources of vitamin K2. Grass-fed meat contains more vitamin K2 than farm-raised.
  • Natto: This fermented soybean product is renowned for being an exceptional source of vitamin K2.

You can buy vitamin K2 in supplement form but always talk to your healthcare provider before taking one. For example, a vitamin K2 supplement could interfere with some blood thinners.

Consulting with a Healthcare Professional

While dietary sources of calcium are the safest bet, individual nutritional needs are complex and the interplay between calcium, vitamin D supplements, and stroke risk is intricate. Though studies raise concerns about calcium supplements and taking vitamin D and calcium together, you still need these nutrients in your diet. For most people, relying on dietary calcium sources is the wisest choice. Also, consider incorporating more vitamin K2-rich foods into your diet for equilibrium, all while maintaining an ongoing dialogue with your healthcare professional.


  • Effects of Nutritional Supplements and Dietary Interventions on Cardiovascular Outcomes: An Umbrella Review and Evidence Map: Annals of Internal Medicine: Vol 171, No 3. Annals of Internal Medicine. Published 2019. Accessed September 3, 2023. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M19-0341.
  • “Risk of Ischemic Stroke Associated With Calcium Supplements With or Without Vitamin D: A Nested Case‐Control Study”. Www.Ahajournals.Org, 2023, https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/jaha.117.005795. Accessed 3 Sep 2023.
  • “Vitamin K2—a neglected player in cardiovascular health: a narrative review | Open Heart”. Openheart.Bmj.Com, 2023, https://openheart.bmj.com/content/8/2/e001715. Accessed 3 Sep 2023.
  • “Calcium Supplements: Should You Take Them? – Johns Hopkins Medicine.” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/calcium-supplements-should-you-take-them.
  • “Calcium supplements: A risk factor for heart attack?.” 23 Mar. 2023, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/expert-answers/calcium-supplements/faq-20058352.
  • “Calcium Supplements: Do They Increase Heart Attack Risk? – Healthline.” 22 Apr. 2022, https://www.healthline.com/health/heart-attack/calcium-supplements-and-risk-of-heart-attack.

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