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Published on October 05, 2015

Calcium: good for your bones, bad for your heart?Calcium: good for your bones, bad for your heart?

Here we go again.

One study says we should take calcium to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. Another cautions that calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart attack, especially among women.

What to believe?

The topic has been vigorously debated in recent years. 2012 brought warnings about a possible link between increased calcium and plaque deposits that cause hardening of the arteries. But many of those studies have been inconclusive, said Peter Chiotellis, MD, FACC, a cardiologist affiliated with Cape Cod Hospital.

“I do not believe that doses of calcium represent an increased risk, and most recent studies have confirmed this,” Dr. Chiotellis says. “Restricting calcium supplementation in the elderly without a doubt will increase the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.”

Dr. Chiotellis points to a study last year by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Researchers examined supplemental calcium use and incidents of heart attack and stroke involving nearly 75,000 patients over 24 years. Their calcium supplement intake was assessed every four years.

After adjusting for heart-risk factors such as age, body mass index and dietary calcium, the researchers found no significant difference in the rate of heart attack or stroke between women who took more than 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day and those who took none.

The results were similar when the researchers analyzed nonsmokers, women without high blood pressure and those who exercised regularly.

And a Purdue University study released in September reaffirmed that calcium supplements up to 2,000 milligrams a day are not likely to cause heart problems or heart attacks.

Dr. Chiotellis cautioned that people should not take more calcium than the daily recommendation of about 1,000 milligrams for most men and premenopausal women.

And they should consult their doctors about the potential interactions among calcium and other drugs.

Postmenopausal women need about 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day, and teenagers need 1,300 milligrams, said Courtney Driscoll, clinical nutrition manager at Cape Cod Healthcare.

While supplements are needed by many people, Driscoll emphasizes that many foods will provide calcium in your daily diet. She offers these suggestions:

  • Choose breakfast cereals that are fortified with calcium.
  • Add milk instead of water when making oatmeal.
  • Use canned salmon, instead of tuna, to make lunch salads.
  • Drink calcium-fortified orange juice.
  • Add nonfat dry milk to recipes, such as pancakes, bread, cookies, puddings, and cocoa.
  • Use yogurt in place of sour cream or mayonnaise when making dressings, dips, or sauces.
  • Add shredded cheese to foods, such as baked potatoes, casseroles, and salads.
  • If you are finding it difficult to get enough calcium through your diet alone, talk to your doctor about taking calcium supplements.

To review age-specific calcium information, checkout the Institute of Medicine’s calcium intake recommendations.