"Dr. Jack, I was told that I should be taking calcium supplements because of my age. What do you think?” Nora, a 52 year old, small, thin, pale Caucasian stared intently at her doctor. “I was told that I had small bones and was probably osteoporotic. Should I be taking calcium and Vitamin D?”
Dr. Jack Reynolds folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. “Well, Nora, I never like to generalize with patients. It all depends on who you are and what you are, doesn’t it?” He smiled. “Yes, you are small-boned and small-boned women are prone to fractures but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are osteoporotic or that you should be taking supplements.
High Calcium Intake May Actually Increase Risk of Hip Fractures
A newly published Swedish study of over 61,000 women who were followed for more than 19 years provides the strongest evidence to date that high calcium intake is not beneficial for preventing bone fractures. The exceptions are women with very low amounts of calcium and vitamin D in their diet. Women in the top 25 percent of calcium intake showed no reduced risk of fractures or osteoporosis. Instead, they actually showed a 19 percent increase in hip fractures. The lowest fracture risk was found in women with total calcium intake of about 800 mg per day.
Taking calcium supplements may pose increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
A reanalysis of just over half of the women in the Women's Health Initiative Calcium/Vitamin D Supplementation Study has found a modest increased risk of myocardial infarction and stoke in those taking calcium supplements with or without Vitamin D.These researchers also found no relation between the dose of supplements being taken, and cited evidence from several other studies that support their findings. This data questions the assumption that a supplement won't hurt and might help.
PositiveTip: Eating calcium-rich foods, exposure to adequate sunlight, and ample physical exercise may be the safest course to strengthen bones.
Calcium supplements' small benefits to bone strength must be weighed against the cardiovascular risks.
There is evidence that supplemental calcium may hasten vascular calcification and can raise the risk of heart attacks in otherwise healthy older women. An analysis of 15 double-blind, randomized trials with more than 8000 participants taking at least 500 mg of calcium supplements each day or a placebo, has shown significantly higher rates of heart attack in those taking calcium supplements. The data suggests that treating 1000 people with calcium supplements for 5 years would only prevent 26 fractures but would cause 14 additional heart attacks.
PositiveTip: Taking calcium supplements? You should talk to your physician about the small bone benefits against the cardiovascular risks.