When Seeking Daily Calcium, Supplements May Pose More Risk Than Benefit

By Mohamad Hamze

Oral calcium supplements are popular among American adults who seek to reduce their risk of osteoporosis, but new studies from researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have found a positive correlation between calcium supplement use and long-term risk of atherosclerosis development. In a study involving adults aged 45 to 81, participants’ calcium intakes and their sources of the mineral were studied over the course of 10 years; results from the study were analyzed and were found to show an association dependence on oral calcium supplements as the main source of calcium and arterial plaque buildup. This association was in comparison to individuals who relied mainly on dietary sources of calcium, whose risks for developing coronary artery disease was 22 percent lower than their supplement-reliant counterparts. 

            Individuals in the study who showed the highest daily intake of dietary calcium at just over 1,000 milligrams/day exhibited markedly lower coronary plaque buildup over the ten-year observation than those with similar total calcium intake – but with the majority of such intake being sourced from oral supplements. The distinction between the effects of supplementary and dietary calcium has multiple proposed sources, the main one being the inability of the body to sufficiently process calcium in such large doses. This suggested inability to properly break down the supplement, allocate the calcium to bones, and remove excess via urine could result in the noted observed in increased calcium-based plaques present in the arteries of study participants.

 If at all possible, one should try and meet calcium guidelines through dietary calcium alone, a circumstance which has been suggested to protect against both coronary artery disease and osteoporosis. Likewise, researchers encourage individuals to consult with their physicians before starting any supplement, in order to decide whether or not it would be an appropriate way to obtain a vitamin or mineral as opposed to dietary sources alone.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Calcium supplements may damage the heart." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 October 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161011182621.htm>.