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Calcium Supplements May Raise Heart Attack Risk

Study Finds Calcium From Supplements Appears to Boost Heart Attack Risk; Supplement Industry Disagrees

Industry Perspective

The new findings are at odds with those of many other studies, says Wallace of the Council for Responsible Nutrition.

He also points out the relatively small number of heart attacks found in the study.

For calcium, he says, "We always recommend food first and then fill the gap with supplements," Wallace says. "The reality is, Americans don't get enough calcium."

Women past menopause are especially vulnerable to a low intake of calcium, he says. If someone is unable to get enough calcium from food, he says, "they should absolutely be taking a calcium supplement or they are at risk of developing osteoporosis or a fracture."

He points out some study limitations. "The original study wasn't designed to measure cardiovascular events," he says in a statement. As a result, risk factors for heart disease varied among groups. For instance, those in the calcium supplement group had a higher percentage of people with high cholesterol at the start of the study than other groups did.

Calcium & Heart Disease Risks: What to Do?

Pick calcium-rich foods over a pill, suggests Ian R.Reid, MD, distinguished professor of medicine at the University of Auckland. He wrote an editorial to accompany the study.

Taking a calcium supplement once or twice a day, he writes, "is not natural, in that it does not reproduce the same metabolic effects as calcium in food."

"The most important message to women who have been self-prescribing calcium," he tells WebMD, "is that they should cease this practice, and look to a modified diet to obtain adequate calcium."

In his own research, Reid has found a 25% increased risk of heart attack linked with calcium supplements.

''Everyone needs to discuss the calcium question with their own doctor," says Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, director of Women and Heart Disease at the Heart and Vascular Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. She reviewed the study findings for WebMD.

However, she says the new study findings suggest that taking a calcium supplement may not be the safest thing to do.

Understanding your individual risk for osteoporosis is important, she says. Calcium supplements are not the only way to boost bone health, she says. "We know a diet that has a moderate amount of calcium is safe and that weight-bearing exercise is protective."

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