Bone Health Supplement Could Increase Risk of a Heart Attack

Sunday 3rd June 2012

There are times when I have to read something a few times before I begin to understand it.

Of course sometimes there is real intention in doing this on the part of the author.

Sentence construction, grammar and long scientific names are designed to throw us off the scent of the real story.

Last week just such a thing happened over my breakfast cereal.

‘Calcium pills double heart attack risk’ trumpeted the Daily Mail headline.

My jaw bounced off of the table top in disbelief.

The article continued –

‘Calcium supplements taken by millions of people every day can double the risk of heart attacks, according to a study, while researchers say they do little to protect bones against fractures.’1

I could barely believe my eyes, but it seemed to be that a long term study in Germany following 24,000 subjects showed that their risk of a heart attack was massively increased if they were taking calcium supplements.

This is certainly a worrying finding as most estimates put the number of women who take a daily calcium pill at somewhere around 5 million in the UK alone.

I felt I needed to dig into this story a little further because something didn’t seem quite right.

The effective way to build up calcium reserves is by getting the right mix

Diet & calcium

The research team concluded that daily calcium supplementation was not only placing cardiac heath at risk but also was ineffective at countering osteoporosis – the brittle bone disease - so doing exactly the opposite to what it says on the tin.

They maintained that the only effective way to obtain enough calcium was through an appropriate diet, especially dairy products.

And do you know what, I have absolutely no argument with that. No argument … now there's an unfamiliar concept!

A healthy balanced diet for a healthy person will provide everything that we need, but there are two 'healthy’s and one 'balanced in that sentence which need explaining.

What wasn’t made clear in the study was the amount of calcium being given, or the nature of the participants’ diets.

Much more relevant was the underlying health of those taking it.

The study is interesting and certainly opens the door to further research looking at how our bodies deal with this essential mineral, especially for those who are beginning to leach it from their bones.

This condition is known as osteopenia which is often seen as a precursor to osteoporosis.

The big difference between the two states is that osteopenia is reversible given correct nutrition and changes in lifestyle.

So depending on the need of the body and the efficiency of its ability to take calcium out of food, there is always a risk that you could be osteopenic without being aware of it as the symptoms are very well hidden.

In fact only a bone scan would show up any reduction in the minerals in your bone.

So, the nature of the participants’ bone health at the start of the study wasn’t shown in the research – which could have a big influence on whether calcium makes a difference to them.

Next the issue of cardiovascular risk.

An increase in calcium in the circulation system can cause deposition in the blood vessels, but only if the liver is at risk...or the vascular system is already compromised.

You see the liver is like the big bruiser of a doorman at the doorway of the body.

All nutrients extracted from our food in the gut goes down a single highway to the liver called the hepatic portal vein.

On arrival it is screened, cleaned and buffed up to make it presentable for the body.

If the liver says 'you ain’t coming in' no amount of pleading makes a difference, you’re face down in the gallbladder and on the way to alimentary departure fairly pronto.

So, again the study didn’t screen the patients for pre-existing heart or liver problems which has to distort the results.

The experts agree, but even they aren’t telling the full story

A visit to both the Department of Health and National Institute of Health & Clinical Excellence (NICE) websites shows that they consider supplementation with appropriate levels of calcium to be important for those at risk of osteoporosis.

But I never totally trust them, and if there was a change in scientific thinking they tend to be behind the curve.

I prefer the real experts, such as Dr Claire Bowring of the National Osteoporosis Society who is quoted as saying –

‘If you get all of the calcium that you need from your diet then a supplement will not be necessary, supplementation may be warranted if you are unable to get enough calcium in your diet,” which seems straightforward and logical to me.

Of course what it does miss is where some folk can’t take dairy on board for a whole number of reasons.

I think it is fair to say that we should keep an eye on how this research develops, however I do think there is a need to supplement calcium – it just needs to be done correctly.

In this respect I have seen a lot of information about combining calcium with vitamin D as both are important for helping retain bone structure.

The problem is that this combination doesn’t actually help the body deal with calcium uptake when it is needed.

And I’m not a fan of vitamin D supplements when we still have a sun shining!

The answer to making the most of calcium supplements lies elsewhere.

It seems that in order to make the most efficient use of calcium we also need a diet rich in another mineral: Magnesium2.  And it’s the lack of this in most preparations which makes them less effective3.

Calcium, Magnesium and apple cider vinegar as a daily supplement for those at risk of weakened bones

I’m not saying that we should ignore the messages being developed by long term research, however neither should we ignore common sense.

In 1999 the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a paper which showed that a diet of fruit and vegetables alongside calcium and magnesium creates the alkaline conditions necessary for an increase in bone mineral density4.

This makes much more sense, and actually is the balanced approach we need.


Yours, as always


References;
1Li K, Kaaks R, Linseisen J, Rohrmann S. 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
2Alcock, N., MacIntyre, I.(1962); Inter-relation of calcium and magnesium absorption Clinical Science 1962, 22:185-93. 
3Hardwick L., Jones M., Brautbar N., Lee D., (1991); Magnesium absorption: mechanisms and the influence of vitamin D, calcium and phosphate. The Journal of Nutrition 1991, 121(1):13-23
4Tucker, K.,et al; (1999); Potassim, magnesium and fruit and vegetable intakes are associated with greater bone mineral density in elderly men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 1999:69 pp727-36

 

 

 

 


 

 

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