Most commercial calcium supplements don’t prevent bone loss and may increase heart disease risks
Many older Americans have been told by their doctors that they either have osteoporosis or are at risk of getting it because they have decreased bone density (osteopenia). Needless to say this information scares many people, and in some cases they are determined to avoid the seemingly inevitable outcome of losing more bone mass and winding up with fractures. They read up about osteoporosis, talk to their friends or even get a recommendation from their doctor to take a calcium supplement. This may be one of the biggest mistakes they will ever make. You see, most commercial calcium supplements, the type you will find on your drug store shelves, in your health food store or on the internet, is made of one or two materials, either limestone (calcium carbonate) or oyster shell (dolomite). Neither of these calcium types is absorbable by the human body, and they have been cited in numerous research articles as contributing to heart disease and strokes. In the latest meta-analysis (analysis of a mass of articles on the same subject), published in the journal Nutrients, “Cardiovascular effects of calcium supplements,” the researchers concluded calcium supplements “increase the risk of heart attacks by 27% – 31% and the risk of stroke by 12% – 20%.”
Flawed bone density guidelines
The study noted that the risk of heart disease was not lessened in any of the studies by the co-administration of vitamin D. There may be different pathological reasons why calcium supplementation increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, including the possibility of vascular calcification (the calcifying of arteries). The researchers concluded, “The non-skeletal risks of calcium supplements appear to outweigh any skeletal benefits.” It is important to recognize that the need for calcium supplementation seems to have come into prominence as a direct result of the World Health Organization’s establishment of flawed bone density mineral (BMD) guidelines in the mid-1990s. These guidelines were based on young adult values (25 years old) at peak bone mass as the standard of normalcy for women of all ages, including much older women. Consequently, millions of women of all ages who were previously asymptomatic were classified as having a new bone disease (osteoporosis) or its precursor, osteopenia. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recommends women’s diets include between 1000mg and 1200mg of calcium daily, which would suggest that they would have to take a supplemental calcium pill. The NOF is partially funded by corporate sponsors such as Bayer, which makes a calcium based product, Citrical. This apparent conflict of interest would make it hard to imagine that the NOF is going to substantially change its calcium supplement recommendations, even in the face of a strong body of research that suggests it may place women at significant risk.
It’s not just calcium keeping your bones strong
Let us remember what bone is: a vital and complex tissue that requires a variety of nutrients to maintain maximum strength and quality. Some of the things that bone needs in order to remain vital include amino acids; magnesium; vitamins C, D3 and K2; regular weight-bearing exercise; and balanced hormone levels. What happens when we take these “elemental” calcium supplements (calcium carbonate and dolomite), calcium-rich dairy products or chemical calcium-enhancer drugs such as bisphosphonates (a class of drugs that prevents the loss of bone mass, including Boniva, Fosamax, Reclast and Actonel) to combat the diagnosis of osteoporosis? All of these treatments “work” in some ways but the improvements in BMD may be misleading and can come at a tremendous price: They may cause decrease in bone quality and length of life of the patient as a whole. Some research suggests that supplementing with elemental calcium and/or bisphosphonates may actually increase the risk of hip fracture. We must remember that bone density loss naturally occurs with age; therefore, using any of the above methods to try to reverse a natural decline in bone density is likely to have adverse effects. Becoming aware of how we use our bodies and remaining alert to the deterioration of hand/eye coordination are very significant in helping to prevent fractures. Additionally, eating foods that are naturally rich in absorbable calcium, such as kale and other dark green leafy vegetables, is critically important in retaining bone quality.
Osteoporosis is scary, but heart disease is a much bigger threat
Considering the fact that the most significant cause of death in US women is heart disease (one in four women will die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]), it seems cruelly ironic that women may be given advice regarding improper calcium supplementation that could increase their risk of developing heart disease. Equally important to realize is that death due to complications from bone fracture and osteoporosis don’t even make the top ten in causes of death for women from the same CDC list. In my opinion it is essential to refocus our priorities in teaching people how to properly support the lifelong quality and density of our bones through education about food, lifestyle, exercise and, where necessary, the use of healthy, absorbable forms of calcium supplementation. If you would like help learning more about how to keep your bones healthy and strong throughout your life, please contact me at drdbrant.com or 516-609-0890. Yours in infinite wellness, Dr. Garry D’Brant