Calcium Pills Can Dangerously Up Heart Attack Risk

By Amir Khan on May 24, 2012 3:23 PM EDT

Calcium
People taking calcium supplements are at an 86 percent higher risk of heart attack, according to a new study. (Photo: Beautyangleshop)

Calcium is often taken to strengthen bones, but doing so could be deadly. People taking calcium supplements are at an increased risk of heart attack, according to a new study, published Wednesday in the journal Heart.

Researchers from the German Cancer Research Centre followed almost 24,000 people for longer than 10 years and found that people who regularly took calcium supplements had an 86 percent higher risk of heart attack.

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"Calcium is an important mineral," Sabine Rohrmann, lead author and an epidemiologist at the University of Zurich, told CNN. "However, we probably do not need mega-doses of calcium, and the current recommendation"--1,000 to 1,200 milligrams for most U.S. adults--"can be met by a balanced diet that includes (low-fat) milk and dairy products."

It's unclear why the calcium increases the heart attack risk, but according to CBS News, calcium, along with cholesterol, can contribute to artery hardening. It's possible the increased calcium hardens the arteries, restricting bloodflow and leading to a heart attack.

Ian Reid and Mark Bolland, researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, told BBC News that the study makes it clear that calcium supplements are dangerous.

"The administration of this micro nutrient should not be encouraged; rather people should be advised to obtain their calcium intake from an appropriately balanced diet," they said. "We should return to seeing calcium as an important component of a balanced diet and not as a low cost panacea to the universal problem of postmenopausal bone loss."

Other researchers, however, remain unconvinced.

"Osteoporosis is a real issue for women and it is irresponsible for scientists to advise that women cut out calcium supplements on the basis of one flawed survey, particularly when the link between calcium, vitamin D and bone health is endorsed by the European Food Safety Authority," Dr. Carrie Ruxton, from the Health Supplements Information Service, which is funded supplement manufacturers, told BBC News.

Dr. Phil Ragno, director of cardiovascular health and wellness at Winthrop Hospital, told Fox News that people need to speak to their doctor before taking any supplements.

"Supplements should be treated like any other medication," he said. "It's important for patients to sit down with their doctors to discuss what they're taking and [whether they] have an effect on their body."

Ultimately, more information is needed before doctors or researchers can draw a conclusion, Natasha Stewart, a senior cardiac nurse with the British Heart Foundation, told BBC News.

"Further research is needed to shed light on the relationship between calcium supplements and heart health," she said. "We need to determine whether the potential risks of the supplements outweigh the benefits calcium can give sufferers of conditions such as osteoporosis."

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