On April 20, 2011, the British Medical Journal published a study conducted by researchers from the University of Auckland that indicated that women taking calcium supplements had as much as a 22 percent increased chance of suffering a heart attack than women who did not take calcium supplements. The natural products industry’s response to this study is to cite considerable research contradicting this finding and to refer to the study as a flawed analysis. I agree with some of these points. However, my take on the situation is that the findings are likely very real. But before you rush to judgment that I am a heretic in the dietary supplement industry, let me explain.
First of all, the finding that calcium supplementation may actually increase the risk of having a heart attack, and the resulting media fervor in reporting this story, is not surprising to me at all. In fact, I predicted it and wrote about it in 1982. Was I clairvoyant? Hardly. It is just common sense. It is well known that taking too much calcium can lead to significantly reduced absorption of important heart-protective minerals like magnesium, zinc, copper and selenium. The negative effect on magnesium levels alone may be the key explanation for the results of the study. Furthermore, taking calcium if you have low vitamin K levels may also explain the negative result, as vitamin K is somewhat preventive against calcium being deposited in the arteries.
What the Message Should Be
One of the major shortcomings of research into nutrition is the focus on the effect of just one nutrient. Unfortunately, nutrients are not drugs; they work as part of a system. Taking one nutrient at the expense of another creates imbalance, and that can lead to disease. I think that is what the true interpretation and message from this new study should be. We have seen similar results when researchers have looked at vitamin E and beta-carotene studies. The take-home message should be that supplementation with a single nutrient or just a couple nutrients at high dosages may produce more harm than good.
So, what should consumers do? As I have repeatedly written and stated for the past 20 years, the use of any single nutrient at higher dosages is only advisable for specific indications, and must be used within the context of a truly comprehensive approach that focuses on a diet rich in plant foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes), adequate protein and a strong foundation of nutritional supplementation. The three key dietary supplements I recommend to provide a strong foundation for a proper nutritional supplement plan are:
- A high-potency multiple vitamin and mineral formula
- A “greens” drink product or flavonoid-rich extracts
- A pharmaceutical-grade fish oil supplement
My dietary recommendations and foundational supplements work synergistically and in harmony with each other because of the key roles they each play in promoting vibrant health. In regards to calcium, the research is quite clear. Dosages should be no more than 1,000 mg daily, as taking higher dosages produces absolutely zero additional benefit. And when you supplement with calcium, you should also include the full array of other minerals at recommended dietary intake levels to safeguard against producing an imbalance.
I have tried to stress to women wanting to build strong, healthy bones that calcium is NOT the answer. Bone is dynamic, living tissue that requires a full array of nutrients to function properly. Taking calcium alone has NOT been shown to be effective in building healthy bones or in preventing osteoporosis. Combining it with vitamin D increases the possible benefit slightly, but even that is not sufficient. The real key may be using measures to increase the collagen content of the bone and the number of bone-mineral binding sites with agents such as vitamin K (especially K2) and bioavailable silica. Collagen and other structural proteins provide the organic framework of bone upon which minerals can be deposited. Much like more nails won’t help you build a frame of a house if you have insufficient 2-by-4s, calcium will not be deposited properly within bone without the structural framework. So the calcium may wind up elsewhere where it is not desired. Read more about osteoporosis.