Thursday, December 14, 2017 by Isabelle Z.
When it comes to vitamins and other nutrients, the source can make all the difference. This appears to be the case with calcium supplements, as researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have discovered in a recent study.
The researchers analyzed a decade of medical tests that were part of a federally funded study on heart disease. After looking at the data of more than 2,700 people, they determined that taking calcium supplements could increase a person’s risk of plaque buildup in their arteries as well as heart damage.
That means you should forego calcium if you’re concerned about heart health, right? Not so fast. At the same time, they found that diets that are high in calcium-rich foods actually have a protective effect on the heart. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The researchers had decided to look into how calcium affects the heart and vascular system after some studies indicated that ingested calcium supplements weren’t making their way to people’s skeletons or being excreted in their urine, particularly in older people. This meant it was likely accumulating in their body’s soft tissues. Given the fact that calcium-based plaque has a tendency to build up in the aorta and other arteries as a person gets older, slowing their blood flow and raising their heart attack risk, they felt further investigation was warranted.
The investigators focused their study on 2,742 people who had filled out dietary questionnaires and undergone two different CT scans ten years apart as part of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. The participants were roughly half female and half male, and several ethnicities were represented in the group. Their ages spanned from 45 to 84.
The researchers asked about the drugs and supplements taken by each person on a regular basis. They also looked at their food habits to determine how much calcium they would be getting from dairy products, calcium-enriched foods, and leafy greens, to name a few.
They had to make a number of adjustments before reaching their conclusions, including sex, age, race, smoking, exercise, education, blood sugar, income, and family medical history. They then honed in on the 20 percent with the highest intake of calcium, who were found to be 27 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those in the bottom 20 percent in terms of calcium intake.
Then, they looked at the differences between those who got all their calcium from food and those who used supplements. After accounting for the lifestyle and demographic factors again, they discovered that those who took supplements had a 22 percent higher likelihood of developing heart disease.
Report co-author Dr. John Anderson said: “There is clearly something different in how the body uses and responds to supplements versus intake through diet that makes it riskier. It could be that supplements contain calcium salts, or it could be from taking a large dose all at once that the body is unable to process.”
Data from the National Institutes of Health shows that around 43 percent of American adults take supplements that include calcium. As Dr. Anderson pointed out, those who get calcium from their diet are getting it from plants, while the calcium in supplements typically comes from calcium carbonate from rocks.
While getting calcium from a good, clean source is essential, it’s also important to keep calcium levels balanced with magnesium. That’s because when the body has too much magnesium and insufficient calcium, your muscle contractions can weaken, leading to an irregular heartbeat. Thankfully, leafy greens, yogurt, and milk are all rich in magnesium as well as calcium, driving home the point that eating a healthy diet is one of the best ways to give your body the nutrients it needs.