There are plenty of reasons to get enough calcium in your diet. Ninety-nine percent of the calcium deposits in your body is in your bones and teeth where it keeps them hard and strong. But the other 1% is no less important. Calcium is critical for the healthy function of muscles, glands, and nerves. When calcium levels drop too low in the bloodstream, it can be fatal. Getting enough dietary calcium is especially important for women since they’re at higher risk for osteoporosis. Calcium and vitamin D help to prevent bone loss that occurs with aging, and they work together as a team.
To get enough calcium, some people turn to calcium supplements. It sounds so convenient. Simply take a calcium supplement every day to get the calcium you need for strong bones. Unfortunately, recent research reveals that taking calcium supplements may be risky for your health.
Calcium Supplements: Does Convenience Come With Some Risks?
In a recent study published in the journal Heart, researchers looked at the incidence of heart attacks among 24,000 people living in Heidelberg, Germany. After questioning these folks about their diet and use of supplements, they found that respondents who took calcium supplements had an 86% higher risk of suffering a heart attack relative to those who didn’t. This isn’t the first study to show such a link.
Another study carried out in New Zealand showed that postmenopausal women who took a 1,000 milligrams calcium supplement every day had an increased risk of a heart attack. Although these studies aren’t the final word, it raises questions about the safety of taking calcium supplements.
Why Would Calcium Supplements Increase the Risk of Heart Problems?
The researchers in this study point out that taking a calcium supplement exposes the body to a large dose of calcium at once. This doesn’t mimic the way most people get calcium through diet, in smaller amounts throughout the day. Researchers believe that excess calcium can be deposited in the walls of arteries where it can change the function of blood vessel walls, making it more difficult for blood to flow freely through them. This is especially dangerous if it involves the coronary arteries.
You Still Need Calcium – Here’s How to Get It
Calcium supplements may be in question, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on calcium. Calcium is vital for healthy bones and for overall health. Adult women need between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams of this bone-preserving mineral each day and many aren’t getting it. Fortunately, it’s not hard to get enough calcium if you do a little planning.
A single serving of yogurt has over 400 milligrams of calcium and if you choose one with active cultures, it’s a good source of probiotics too. A glass of milk has almost 300 milligrams of calcium, and two slices of firm cheese have as much calcium as a glass of milk. Cottage cheese is another good calcium source with 130 milligrams per serving.
If you don’t eat dairy products, getting enough calcium is more challenging. Fortunately, some products like orange juice are fortified with it. A glass of calcium-fortified orange juice has almost 380 milligrams of bone-preserving calcium. Fortified cereals and firm tofu are other excellent, non-dairy sources of calcium. Some greens such as turnip greens and kale have almost 100 milligrams of calcium per serving.
The Bottom Line?
Getting enough calcium is critical, but it’s best to get it naturally through diet and avoid calcium supplements until more is known about the safety of calcium supplements. To ensure you get enough, include a source of calcium with each meal. Add milk to oatmeal or calcium-fortified cereal, have a serving of yogurt or cottage cheese at lunch or a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice, and enjoy green, leafy vegetables at dinner. Top the evening off with a cottage cheese snack before bedtime. You can get enough calcium through diet, but it takes a little more planning.
Nutraingredients.com. “Study Links Calcium Supplements to Doubling of Heart Attack Risk”
BMJ. 2010 Jul 29;341:c3691. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c3691.
The Nutritionist. Robert Wildman, Ph.D., RD. (2002)