Calcium supplementation isn’t related to an increased risk of heart disease

Chelated MineralsIf you’ve watched the news lately you may have seen a story that claims that taking calcium can lead to increased risk of heart disease. Sadly as we’ve often see these are based on very poor, or biased studies.

Calcium is an essential nutrient for skeletal health. However, a couple of recent studies have suggested that supplemental calcium may be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, possibly by increasing carotid artery thickness.

A new study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research reports that supplementing with calcium may decrease carotid artery thickness and heart disease risk. Australian researchers evaluated data from 1,103 older women that took part in the Calcium Intake Fracture Outcome Study, a 5 year (1998-2003) randomized controlled study. The participants were randomized to take either a 1,200 mg calcium carbonate supplement daily or a placebo. Common carotid artery intimal media thickness (an indicator of atherosclerosis) was measured at the beginning and after 3 years.

The women who took calcium supplements during the trial did not have an increase in carotid artery thickness compared to the placebo group. In fact, the presence of atherosclerosis was found in 46.7% of women taking the calcium compared to 54.7% of the women in the placebo group. The women whose total calcium intake from diet and supplements was in the top one-third of subjects had a 33% lower risk of carotid artery atherosclerosis than those whose total calcium intake was in the lowest third.

The conclusion of this study refutes the finding of recent studies showing a negative association between calcium supplementation and heart disease. Higher calcium intake through supplementation and diet may actually reduce carotid artery atherosclerosis.

One key with calcium supplementation is that you need more than calcium alone. You must also take magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K, and boron. With all these taken to together, in the right ratios the maximum calcium will be ushered into the bone matrix. Magnesium should be half the amount of calcium. So if you take 800 mg of calcium, it should contain 400 mg of magnesium.

Key also is the vitamin D because most Americans are deficient in vitamin D. So if you’re taking pure calcium alone, switch and find a good supplement which has all the above vitamins and minerals.

Lewis JR, Zhu K, Thompson PL, Prince RL. The Effects of 3 Years of Calcium Supplementation on Common Carotid Artery Intimal Medial Thickness and Carotid Atherosclerosis in Older Women: An Ancillary Study of the CAIFOS Randomized Controlled Trial. J Bone Miner Res. 2013 Oct 23. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.2117.

Quality Concerns with some popular Calcium supplements. just published a detailed report where they analyzed 29 different calcium supplements. What they tested for was:

  • Did the supplement contain the labeled amount of the ingredients.
  • Purity – Did it contain any contaminants
  • Ability to break apart in a timely manner so it could be absorbed. The standard is 30 minutes. if it takes longer than this, then it won’t be absorbed into your intestines.
Most of the products passed these tests, but several failed.
  • Trader Joe’s Calcium Citrate
    • Didn’t contain the labeled amount of Vitamin D
    • Didn’t dissolve in 30 minutes and even after 60 minutes it still hand’t dissolved.
  • Melaleuca Vitality Calcium
    • Didn’t dissolve in 30 minutes (took over 55 minutes)
  • Viactive Calcium Plus D
    • Didn’t contain the labeled amount of Vitamin D
  • Pure Essence Labs
    • Found excessive lead contamination.
Supplement manufactures are only required to manufacture to food grade Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).  Food grade GMP are designed to insure basic food safety, so free from eColi, salmonella, metal fragments, not to exceed set limits for insect parts, rodent fur, etc. So think of a frozen pizza. It shouldn’t make you sick, but if there is a little extra or less cheese, or an extra pepperoni, nobody cares.
Quality supplement manufactures will voluntarily manufacture to pharmaceutical grade GMP. These FDA requirements go far beyond what is legally required. Pharmaceutical GMP insure that the amount of each ingredient is exactly what it should be for every single tablet, no more and not less. It also insures that there are no contaminants, so through biological and chemical tests are performed frequently throughout production.
NSF is an independent non profit certification organization which tests certifies that companies products  do actually meet the labeled amounts. Of literally thousands of supplement manufactures (including protein drinks, bars, etc) only 53 companies can meet their tests and have been certified. What they don’t test or certify is that the ingredients used are the best form nor that there are optimal amounts of the ingredients, only that what is on the label is in the bottle.

Strontium for Bone Health, Does it work?

I had a dear friend ask about taking strontium to increase her bone strength. Below I’ll briefly discuss what strontium is what it can do, and other alternatives to maintaining or rebuilding bone strength.

  • First what is strontium? Strontium is a mineral which is very similar to calcium. If you remember back to your high school chemistry class, look at the Periodic Table of the Elements you’ll see it just below calcium (2nd column from the left) with the symbol Sr. Being further down on table, it is a heavier molecule. Being in the same column as Calcium, it has some similar chemical properties which lets it mimic calcium to some degree.
  • What can it do? Strontium in the form of strontium ranelate is used in Europe as a prescription drug to help treat osteoporosis. It both helps aid in mineral uptake by the bone matrix and also reduced the reabsorption of calcium out of the bones. Since strontium is a heavier molecule that calcium it can cause your bones to appear more dense on bone scans, but the bones may not be any stronger. So if you are in Europe and using stronium ranelate, let your doctor know so he/she can adjust the bone scan.
  • Can I get strontium ranelate in the US? No. strontium ranelate is not available in the US and is not approved by the US FDA.  You will find supplements advertising they are strontium for bone health, but looking closely all that I have found contained strontium carbonate, citrate, and other salts, which have no published research to support their effectiveness and may not provide any benefit aside from taking your money.  One website advertised in big letters that they had strontium ranelate, but looking at the actual label on the bottle it had strontium citrate. All the FDA looks at is what is listed on the Supplement Fact Panel, they don’t care what is elsewhere on the label.

OK, so if you are in the US, chances are very slim you’ll find any strontium ranelate, so what else can you do? Lets look at what it takes to get calcium into your bones: 

In order to move calcium into your bones you obviously need a adequate supply of calcium, but in addition you must also have magnesium, vitamin D3, vitamin K, boron, and silicon. The boron and silicon must be in the chelated forms, which means they are bound to an organic compound (names may be like boron citrate). If it is the inorganic form, like silicone oxide, then you won’t absorb it.

If you are lacking in any of the above ingredients, or they are in the wrong proportions, you won’t absorb calcium into your bones.  Most of the calcium supplements on the market contain only calcium, or maybe calcium and vitamin D. Like your milk, it is a great source of calcium and much of the milk is fortified with vitamin D. But without the others, you’ll lose bone mass, especially, if you are a post menopausal women.

My recommendation: Take a high quality supplement that has all of the above ingredients in the correct proportions and from a quality company who follows strict pharmaceutical manufacturing practices to insure that what is on the label is actually in the bottle. Give this six months and I’m sure you’ll be very pleased with the results.

The supplement I use and recommend has the following ingredients (serving size is 4 tablets day):

  • Calcium Citrate & Calcium Carbonate             800 mg
  • Magnesium Citrate, chelate, & oxide                400 mg
  • Boron Citrate                                                            1.32 mg
  • Silicone Chelate                                                       9 mg
  • Vitamin D3                                                            400 iu
  • Vitamin K                                                                 60 mcg

Is Calcium Really Dangerous Like We’ve Seen on the News?

There have been several news reports and studies lately saying that calcium supplements lead to an increase in heart disease and that even calcium plus low dose vitamin D leads to an increase in heart disease. In addition they claimed it showed no, or minimal improvement in osteoporosis.   Most are relying on a study published online May 23rd in the journal Heart.

I saw one report in a daily email targeted to doctors that prescribing calcium and vitamin D doesn’t help osteoporosis and leads to increased heart disease, so they are better off to make sure their patients aren’t taking them and they should stay on their prescription drugs for osteoporosis.

So with these kinds of headlines, is it safe to take Calcium and or Vitamin D supplements?  Yes it is, but you need to take a critical look at these studies and understand the basis of how calcium is used in our bodies.

First, Calcium alone can lead to the problems above due to the calcification of soft tissues, like hardening of the arteries and atherosclerotic plaque. What these studies failed to do was provide adequate amounts of magnesium along with calcium. When you eat a well balanced diet you are receiving both calcium and magnesium, unfortunately according to the USDA 57% of americans suffer from inadequate magnesium. Magnesium is a key ingredient to reduce the risk of heart disease because it is a calcium channel blocker.

Second these studies omitted adding vitamin K to the supplements. Studies have shown numerous times that we receive far too little vitamin K in our diets and that once vitamin K levels are raised that there is a 57% reduction from dying from cardiovascular disease  and most of those with blocked arteries and heart valve damage show low vitamin K status.  Furthermore, women taking vitamin K have reduced fractures by 81%.  So vitamin K both helps increase circulatory health and reduces fractures.

So these studies which have looked at just calcium or calcium and vitamin D omitted two other key nutrients which would have completely reversed the outcome of the studies – Magnesium and Vitamin K.

Now if we look beyond just cardiovascular health and also look at skeletal health and avoidance of osteoporosis, which is why most people take calcium in the first place, then three other nutrients are critical to enable your body to move calcium into the bone matrix:

  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D, the new wonder nutrient, enhances calcium absorption in the small intestine and calcium utilization in bone formation. Vitamin D also influences the utilization of phosphorus, another mineral that is important for strong bones.
  • Silicon – This gives stability to all the connective tissues of the body and is essential for proper calcium utilization. Silicone is key to the calcium mineralization of the bone matrix.
  • Boron – Boron reduces calcium excretion and increases the deposition of calcium in the bone.
So if you’re taking calcium supplement for bone health, make sure it also has magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin D, silicon, and boron. The omission of any of these key nutrients will reduce the effectiveness in the prevention of osteoporosis.
The proportions of these nutrients in your supplement and diet are also important. Ideally the amount of calcium should be twice the amount of magnesium. In the the case of the supplement we use and recommend, it has 800 mg of calcium and 400 mg of magnesium  per serving. (proper dosage is 2 servings per day, so twice the above amounts.)
As always just because the label says it has certain amounts of certain nutrients isn’t necessarily a guarantee that it does. ConsumerLabs has found far too often that supplements are lacking in stated nutrients and often, contain lead as well. Inexpensive super market, big box, and drug store brands often use minerals as found in the earth which brings along lead and other undesirable elements.  High quality supplement will use primarily chelated minerals. That means they are bound to organic amino acids, just like they are when you obtain them from fruits and vegetables.

Your Doctor may advise you to stop taking calcium supplements for osteoporosis… But question him/her.

MedPage Today, a leading news and information source for physicians ran a headline article of “Risk of MI (Heart attack) May Go Up With Calcium Supplements” It says that from a meta-analysis of studies done to study the effects of calcium supplementation on osteoporosis that there was a 30% increase in MI (Heart attacks).

The report goes on to suggest that doctors should consider if it is prudent to recommend that their patients take calcium supplements because if the risk.

Don’t panic though and toss your calcium supplements in the trash. You need to read the fine print and between the lines to see how and why they arrived at this:
  • They excluded any studies which combined vitamin D with calcium. Why, because vitamin D is known to be beneficial to the heart.
  • The researchers have also accepted research support from several drug companies: Wyeth, Mission Pharmacal, Shire Pharmaceuticals, and Nycomed. 
  • They performed a meta-analysis, this means that they didn’t actually perform a study, but simply looked at a number of other studies, hand picked the ones they wanted, and then looked at their results.
So what is between the lines:
  • When scientists look at a drug to see if it is effective they look at that drug in isolation, it either works, doesn’t work, or the test subject dies.  They can’t apply this logic though to supplements. You don’t eat just calcium in nature, you’d get calcium complexed with manganese, boron, silicon, vitamin D, and many other vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are not drugs, they are part of our everyday diet and never eaten in isolation. Problems only arise when we are deficient. (Scurvy, beri beri, pellagra, rickets, etc.)
  • Pharmaceutical drug companies spend billions supporting research, some specific to their drugs, others generic and even sometimes to study nutritional supplements. Now fold in human nature. If a company (or companies) are putting money in your pocket, and you know you could get more money to do further research if they like your results. So there is a strong correlation that if a drug company sponsors research involving vitamins & minerals then the outcome will be negative vs if the funding comes from a non-drug company.
  • Lastly they hand picked the studies they wanted to include and more importantly which to exclude. By excluding those which also supplemented with vitamin D they selected they skewed the results to favor an un-natural intake of pure calcium without other nutrients that it would naturally be found with.  As we all know, our bodies must have vitamin D in order to move calcium into the bone matrix, without the Vitamin D, the calcium will just accumulate in the blood, and yes, that could lead to arterial calcification. But why would a reasonable person take calcium without vitamin D and the other nutrients necessary to help reverse osteoporosis?
If you watch TV or see the hundreds of prescription drug ads you’ve surely seen that a one page, or 15 second, ad is followed by two pages or 45 seconds of dangers and warnings. This sure makes taking calcium supplements seem much safer than stroke, heart attacks, liver and kidney damage, etc. So In this case I believe the researchers are playing into their drug companies who are putting dollars into their pockets to persuade doctors to not recommend inexpensive nutritional supplements to their patients, but to prescribe expensive prescription drugs.
So what does your body need to move calcium into the bone matrix? Well of course Calcium, but also Vitamin D, Vitamin K, Magnesium (as a chelate), boron, and silicon. If a supplement has all of these ingredients and in the proper ratios, then your body has what it needs to build bone density. The calcium supplement I use and recomend has all of these ingredients and is manufactured to pharacutical standards to insure that what is on the label is in the product, and nothing else.

Click Here to see the full article on Med Page Today

Calcium Intake Decreases Risk of Cancer

A study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that total calcium intake is related to the development of cancer, especially in women. They followed an elderly population for years and determined their total intake of calcium from their diet and supplementation. Among women, the overall cancer risk of cancer decreased as the total intake of calcium increased up to 1300 mg/day. Gastrointestinal cancers decreased in both men and women who had the highest intake of calcium. Women saw a decrease of 23% and men a decrease of 16% of gastrointestinal cancers. The risk was especially low for colorectal cancers.