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Calcium: Heart Risk for Older Women?

Study Shows Calcium Supplements May Up Heart Attack Risk in Postmenopausal Women

Second Opinion: Calcium, Heart Attacks

The link between calcium supplements and heart attack suggested by the New Zealand team "seems implausible," says Robert P. Heaney, MD, John A. Creighton University professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and a long-time researcher of calcium's effect on health.

Typically, Heaney tells WebMD, "Extra calcium doesn't build up in your arteries. The body regulates the blood concentration of calcium.'' Only in people who have lost the ability to regulate calcium levels could the blood concentration of calcium increase, he says, and this condition is rare.

Calcium and Heart Health Advice

Women should keep taking the recommended amounts of calcium, Heaney says. "Postmenopausal women should be getting 1,500 milligrams [a day] through diet and supplements," he says.

The levels recommended by the Institute of Medicine are a bit lower: 1,200 milligrams of calcium for men and women ages 51 and older, and 1,000 milligrams for those 19 to 50.

"Even if it turns out this [proposed link between calcium supplements and heart attacks] is true and replicated [with further research] you have to weigh that against fracture protection," Heaney says of calcium supplements.

Reid disagrees, suggesting women over the age of 70 and some others should rethink calcium supplements.

"It is likely that this is primarily a problem for elderly women because they are more likely than younger subjects to have prevalent coronary heart disease," he tells WebMD. "Therefore it seems wise to advise against [high amounts of] calcium supplementation in those over the age of 70 years and in those known to have coronary heart disease. Aiming at a total calcium intake of approximately 1 gram [1,000 milligrams] a day [equivalent to four servings of dairy products] seems sensible in these subjects."

For instance, a woman who took in 500 milligrams of calcium from foods should take no more than 500 milligrams in supplements daily, he says.

Younger women can continue supplementing without worry, he says. "At present, there is no evidence of adverse cardiovascular effects of calcium supplementation in younger women, so the conventional use of calcium supplements seems reasonable in these subjects."

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