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.

Magnesium may help reduce the risk of stroke, but the form matters

An analysis of several studies concluded that magnesium may help reduce the risk of stroke. People who consumed 100 mg of magnesium more per day than average (the average being about 300 mg) had an 8% lower risk of strokes of any kind and a 9% lower risk of ischemic stroke (Larsson, Am J Clin Nutr 2012). This finding is based on total magnesium in the diet — it does not mean that 100 mg of magnesium from a supplement will necessarily have the same risk-lowering effect, but getting a total of at least 400 mg of magnesium from your diet and supplementation per day may be beneficial.

You want to make sure your supplements contain a chelated form of magnesium and only a small portion of the salt form.  Look for magnesium citrate or Amino Acid chelate.  Most of the store brands contain magnesium oxide.  These forms of minerals are very poorly absorbed as compared to the chelated forms, of course the chelated forms are much more costly, hence most companies go for the cheaper magnesium oxide form, even it is does little good for you.  My mulit contains 300 mg of magnesium citrate per day. On the other hand, the #1 selling multi only contains 100 mg of magnesium oxide.

One study looked at the bioavailability of magnesium citrate vs magnesium oxide. They found that in humans absorb 36 times more magnesium in the citrate from vs the oxide form.  (  So if your multi or your calcium/magnesium supplement contains magnesium oxide, then you’re wasting your money.  This same applies for all the salt forms of minerals (-oxide, -chloride, -iodide, etc ending in -ide).  If your supplement doesn’t list the form of the mineral and only lists say Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium, etc and doesn’t list the form (magnesium citrate or magnesium oxide) either on the line or in the “Ingredients” section below the nutritional fact panel, then it is safe to assume it only contains the salt, or oxide form as if they put the more costly chelated form (citrate) in then they’d make sure to list it on the label.

Nutrients for a Healthy Heart

Cardiovascular and heart disease are the leading cause of death in the United States, leading to 1 in 4deaths among Americans. Unlike some of the other leading causes of death, most cases of heart and cardiovascular disease can be prevented with proper diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes by the individual. Although there are certain hereditary factors involved with heart disease, these too can be overcome with proper attention to nutrition and healthy living. There are a large number of nutrients and supplements that can help prevent heart disease and improve overall cardiovascular health. Most of these reduce the number of free radicals in the bloodstream that can cause damage to heart tissue or they interact with cholesterol to raise the ratio of HDL Cholesterol (good) to LDL Cholesterol (bad).

Antioxidants are substances that bind and eliminate free radicals. Left unchecked, free radicals interact with the DNA of cells and cause cell death or cancer. The cells of the heart are especially susceptible to damage from free radicals, which make antioxidant nutrients a valuable tool in protecting the heart. There are many different classes of antioxidants including some that are our common everyday vitamins. Vitamins A, C and E are among the most potent antioxidants our body uses. Increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables along with nuts and seeds are a great way of improving your overall cardiovascular and heart health. Nutrients such as Flavonoids, Lycopene and Lutein are also very strong antioxidants which the body can use to eliminate free radicals.

The other significant way that nutrients can help prevent heart and cardiovascular disease is to shift the percentage of HDL to LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is largely responsible for the buildup of plaque on the inside walls of arteries and veins. This buildup leads to high blood pressure and also can result in a complete blockage. The arteries that supply oxygenated blood to the heart tissue are especially susceptable to blockage. When these arteries become blocked, heart tissue dies. This is commonly called a heart attack or myocardial infarction. Vitamin E, along with Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids from fish are invaluable nutrients that keep LDL cholesterol percentages decreased.

There are other nutrients including Niacin, Magnesium and Vitamin B that have been shown to reverse damage already done to the heart and to prevent plaque from building up inside veins and arteries. Potassium is another key nutrient as it helps to lower blood pressure by counteracting sodium in the bloodstream.

A diet high in fruits and vegetables will not only help prevent cardiovascular disease by helping to control an individuals weight, these foods also contain enormous amounts of the vitamins and minerals proven to reduce and prevent heart and cardiovascular disease. Along with oily fish such as salmon and nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables will go a long way in preventing you from becoming one of the 25% of people whose death is caused by cardiovascular disease.

by Peter Sedesex

Higher magnesium levels linked with lower risk of sudden cardiac death

An article published online on November 24, 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports a protective effect for higher plasma and dietary magnesium against the risk of sudden cardiac death in women. Up to 68 percent of women and 55 percent of men who undergo sudden cardiac death have no clinically recognized cardiovascular disease prior to the events, which take 184,000 to 462,000 people’s lives each year.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University analyzed data from 88,375 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study who were free of disease in 1980. Questionnaires completed in 1980, 1984, 1986 and every four years through 2002 provided information on magnesium intake from food and supplements. Blood samples drawn from 32,826 participants between 1989 and 1990 were analyzed for plasma magnesium, lipids and other factors. Sudden cardiac deaths were defined as those that occurred within 1 hour of symptom onset or involved arrhythmia.
Over the 26 year follow-up period, there were 295 definite and 210 probable sudden cardiac deaths among the participants. Women whose magnesium intake was among the highest 25 percent of the subjects at greater than 345 milligrams per day had a 34 percent lower adjusted risk of sudden cardiac death compared to those whose intake was lowest at less than 261 milligrams. A similar reduction in risk was observed in those whose intake was in the second quartile.
Having high plasma magnesium also appeared to be protective against sudden cardiac death, with those whose levels were among the highest top 25 percent at over 2.1 milligrams per deciliter experiencing a 77 percent lower adjusted risk compared to those in the lowest 25 percent.
In their introduction to the article, the authors remark that magnesium plays a vital role in cardiac electrophysiology, and that studies have found that the mineral has an antiarrhythmic property. Epidemiologic studies have uncovered a protective effect for increased plasma magnesium levels against cardiovascular disease and for fatal coronary artery disease events, which the authors suggest could be explained if magnesium was protective against fatal ventricular arrhythmias. “Given that most Americans do not meet the RDA [recommended daily allowance] for magnesium, increasing intake of magnesium presents a potential opportunity for sudden cardiac death prevention in the general population,” they write. “If further studies replicate these findings, this hypothesis may warrant testing in randomized trials.”
What is important to remember is that vitamins and minerals are not drugs and work best in coordination with other nutrients in the proper forms and proportions. For best overall health a high quality multivitamin should be taken at least twice daily.