It's easy to get enough calcium these days. Dairy products are often fortified with the stuff. The elderly, especially post-menopausal women are often advised to take calcium supplements to increase bone health. However, a European study published this week in the journal Heart has suggested that, instead of improving cardiovascular health, calcium supplements may raise your risk of heart attack. The study is taken from data on 23,980 patients, aged 35 to 64 years old, who participated in a study on cancer and nutrition.
The researchers crunched the numbers and found that patients who used calcium supplements had an 86.95% increased risk of heart attack when compared to non-supplement users. Patients who only used calcium supplements saw an even greater risk, more than doubling their chances of a heart attack.
Don't worry, though, if you are a big milk-drinker. The results only apply to calcium supplements, and not to dietary sources of calcium. The study did show, however, that all of those calcium-fortified foodstuffs don't actually increase heart health. From the study:
In this prospective cohort study, total, dairy, or non-dairy calcium intake did not have an overall statistically significant inverse association with cardiovascular risk, except for a likely reduction of [heart attack] risk associated with a moderately higher dairy calcium intake. However, this study also suggests that MI risk might be substantially increased by taking calcium supplements.
Keep in mind that this study was not a controlled trial of calcium supplements in relation to heart health, but a study of data from an unrelated trial. Always consult a doctor before making health decisions based on research such as this. The Guardian quotes the Royal College of Physicians spokesman on cardiology as stating that the study should be "treated cautionsly" and that supplements should only be taken when proscribed by a doctor for a medical need. So take this study with a grain of salt. But not too much - large amounts of sodium can pose health risks as well.