Q. I have been taking a calcium and magnesium supplement for many years. About a year ago I added 1200 IU of vitamin D at the suggestion of my primary care doctor.
I will be hospitalized soon to have my aortic valve replaced. It has started to calcify. Neither my cardiologist nor my heart surgeon attributes this problem to my supplements.
Could my valve problem have been caused by taking calcium supplements?

A. It is almost impossible to determine whether the calcification of your heart valve was caused by your calcium supplement. There is growing concern, however, that calcium supplements may be harmful for the heart.
A new study published online May 23, 2012 in the journal Heart reveals that people who took calcium supplements were at higher risk for heart attacks. This research included more than 23,000 adults who were followed up for 11 years. The investigators estimate that the risk of heart attack more that doubled for those individuals who were taking calcium supplements alone.
This is not the first time calcium has been linked to heart attacks. A year ago a study was published in BMJ (online, April 19, 2011) confirming a connection between calcium supplements and cardiovascular complications. The study included data from more than 16,000 women over the age of 40 who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative and were taking neither calcium nor vitamin D supplements before the study began. When these volunteers were randomized to take both calcium and vitamin D, their risk of heart attack and other vascular problems increased about 20 percent.
In addition, the review analyzed results from 13 other studies of calcium and vitamin D supplements. The findings were consistent: study subjects taking the supplements were approximately 24 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those on placebo.
As the authors of the latest study note, “Several studies have observed a positive association between serum calcium levels and vascular calcification.” The most prudent conclusions from these studies would be that getting adequate calcium from the diet through green leafy vegetables, canned salmon or sardines, almonds or sunflower seeds and dried beans as well as milk and yogurt seems better for your heart’s health than taking pills.
Another reader has had an experience similar to yours:
“I have been advised for 35 years to be certain to take my calcium supplements for strong bones. I am now 63 and last year, just prior to having to have a heart stent, I took a Heart CT-Scan test. The amount of calcium in my coronary arteries was way off the chart!
“Needless to say, I was given the wrong information for my family history. I have not taken another calcium tablet since then, but I think it is too late to remove any of the calcium that is deposited under the plaque in my heart arteries. My Dexa scans are perfect, but somehow my body has been depositing excess calcium in my coronary arteries.”

The accumulating evidence suggests that calcium supplements should not be used routinely. If you would like to learn more about the disappointing results of calcium for building bones and what diet is best for both bones and heart, you may wish to listen to our interview with Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition and Frederick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and Michael Castleman, co-author with Amy Joy Lanou, PhD, of Building Bone Vitality: A Revolutionary Diet Plan to Prevent Bone Loss and Reverse Osteoporosis. An MP3 of this show is available in our shopping cart for $2.99.

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  1. Cor
    Reply

    The calcium from Milk and yogurt are not absorbed by the human body at all. There is no use to take dairy products as a calcium source.

  2. Gina
    Reply

    For those who have been advised to take calcium and are now not sure what to do, well, personally, I think the answer lies in milk and yogurt. For those who want low fat or are lactose intolerant, there are versions of milk to address those.

  3. tutorjb1
    Reply

    I am not a doctor; just an attentive patient who reads Consumer Reports religiously and has a communicative doctor. After I developed a stress fracture in my right hip, my last doctor told me to take 1,500 mg. of calcium as Tums a day; My present Doc had me undergo ultrasounds everywhere which showed calcification within my heart and in the major arteries around the heart. My Doc emailed me a video of the Institute Of Medicine discussing the effects of calcium supplements then I received the Sept. 2012 issue of Consumer Reports – 10 Surprising Dangers of Vitamins and Supplements – in which I read that calcium supplements, but not dietary calcium, cause an 86% increase in heart attacks. The best source of calcium is cereal, then milk, then fish with edible bones.
    I’m finished with this thread. Read the Sept. 2012 issue of Consumer Reports in your library.
    Good Day!
    tutorjb1 – JB

  4. tutorjb1
    Reply

    Hello (esp. Louis A.) My left leg has been mostly paralyzed for 40 years. 15 years ago, I developed a stress fracture on the top of my right thigh bone due to making it work overtime for 25 years. My Doc at the time told me to take 1,500 mg. of calcium as Tums/day, but everybody in town knows he’s a quack and now I do as well.
    Heart attacks run in my family and my new Doc and I researched the literature and learned that calcium supplements cause an 86% increase in heart attacks. Calcium from diet is fine and Vit.D helps it work. Magnesium is also good and fish oil is the best supplement, but almost all the others (esp.Vit.E) are dangerous – see the Sept. 2012 Consumer Reports and Do Not take calcium supplements regularly until you do. Then decide if you want to risk it. Cereal is an excellent source of calcium, particularly with milk.
    JB – tutorjb1

  5. Lindeema
    Reply

    I too was taking about 1500 mg calcium at a doctor’s advice. I started having bone spurs in my feet, knees, and spine. It just seemed related so I stopped the supplement and the fascitis improved to the point that I am able to walk in bare feet. I did follow advice about exercises for the condition and found shoes that helped. I occasionally take a lower dose calcium supplement with magnesium when sleep is an issue, otherwise I increased dark green veggies like kale in my diet.

  6. fbl
    Reply

    DS, I think you are right about the calcium citrate. That is the form I’ve taken for the past twenty years or so and of course have had no problems.

  7. diane P.
    Reply

    In my late 40’s I began taking calcium assuming I needed it as menopause was approaching. After about 4 years, large, some golfball size, lumps began appearing on a number of tendons. The ones on the achilles tendons were the most painful.
    At first, the diagnosis from a rheumatologist was anklosing spondolythyiasis, but the blood work did not support this. In my new job, it was required we read several different journal articles as part of a refresher course. One of the research articles was about some of the side effects of calcium supplementing: One side effect was The development of painful lumps on tendons throughout the body.
    At last, I had an answer. It took about 3 months for all of the lumps to dissipate. Now, 20 years later, I have not taken calcium again and have never had another tendon Lump!
    We all have different chemistry makeups. My assumption is; Minerals and Vitamins are best gotten through food.

  8. Paul43
    Reply

    I would like to hear more

  9. JB
    Reply

    I have been monitored for aortal stenosis for several years, then suddenly it became so severe that I am now scheduled for valve replacement. You can SEE the calcium build up on the pictures.
    The connection? I started taking calcium +D just over a year ago and am convinced that this has caused the rapid decline.
    Please folks -find a better way to keep your bones strong

  10. Elaine S.
    Reply

    I have osteopina and moderate bone loss in my hips and spine. I am 64 and my obgyn perscibed a Louis calcium. He said to take to tale at least 1500 per day.

  11. Elaine S.
    Reply

    The obygn said I had oteopina from bone density test. My take 1500 per day of calcium. Please advise.

  12. DS
    Reply

    Back when I took calcium, my urologist said only to take calcium citrate, which would prevent kidney stones. He said other forms of calcium were “just chalk” and would cause kidney stones. I too wonder what type of calcium were studied concerning blood vessel calcification.

  13. Jefferson Bales
    Reply

    I am going to check out the K-2 Info. at BetterBones.com. I have been taking 1,500 mg. of calcium as tums for years with 1 to2,000 IU of D to help it and because I get very little sun following a stress fracture on the top of my right femur caused by overuse due to my left hemiparesis in 1974 resulting from a motor-cell brain injury suffered as a passenger in an auto accident.
    When the very small stress fracture opened 4 years ago I had to lie in bed taking tramadol every 6 hours for months. I now have hardening of the arteries around my heart and plaque buildup in it with a strong history of heart attacks in my family. I really don’t know what to do after reading this. I forwarded to her so she can advise me at our next meeting on June 5,2012. I wrote down the sources of dietary calcium listed here and will certainly incorporate as much of them as I can afford into my diet in place of supplements, but still plan to take VitD without calcium supplements, though that may change after I read about K-2 and speak with my doctor
    .
    I wish Joe and Terry would tell me their opinion of my plans!
    Thank You Peoples Pharmacy!!
    Jefferson Bales

  14. CDR
    Reply

    To DFW…I also have hyperparathyroidism. My endo put me on 2000 units per day of vit D. I had a very low count, 19, and went to a 49 within 10 months. My PTH is still high but at least I feel my bones are benefiting from taking the D. My main problem w/this condition are the numerous kidney stones. I’ve had the parathyroid surgery but it was unsuccessful and it’s hard to find a dr. that will do a re-surgery.

  15. P. Searby
    Reply

    I would like to know what the “safe” amount of calcium and Vitamin D are. I take both because I have osteoporosis. If I don’t take calcium and Vitamin D I’m afraid I wouldn’t have any bone density at all. My percentage rate of fracture is high. I’ve stopped taking Fosamax because I read it can cause fractures. This I don’t need.
    More information on calcium and Vitamin D are really necessary in this article. Graedon’s has a tendency to leave out pertinent information leaving the audience who reads their information confused and not fully informed. More information please on all subjects you mention.

  16. fbl
    Reply

    W.L, I bet you are right about the vitamin K. I’ve been taking it for years. It helps my skin.
    Probably why my vessels are squeaky clean!

  17. ES
    Reply

    Check out Susan Brown’s website BetterBones.com She has posted info about Vit. K-2 which keeps calcium in the bones and out of the arteries.

  18. fbl
    Reply

    Every body is different!
    You have to take a look at your total calcium/magnesium/potassium intake. Many people get plenty of them with the foods they eat, others don’t. I’m one of the latter and have taken these supplements for almost 40 years.
    My vessels are squeaky clean! Yes, even around my Pfen-fen damaged valve there is no calcification. No, I’m NOT going to have my valve fixed, it is not impacting my life.
    The only blockage I’ve ever had was from a shoulder seat-belt injury and that was handled with chelation therapy.

  19. DFW
    Reply

    Some years ago, after a blood test, a cardiologist I consulted advised me to stop taking calcium supplements because of a high blood calcium level. Soon after I discovered that I am hyperparathyroid, which affects calcium metabolism and usually leads to osteoporosis. I have had conflicting medical advice about whether or not to take Vitamin D supplements. Biochemistry is sure complicated!

  20. Sheila F.
    Reply

    Does this caution about calcium supplements extend to antacids such as Tums?

  21. fbl
    Reply

    Instead of going through a nasty surgery look for a Dr. who does chelation therapy. My hubby went through this over 20 years ago and has done great. I went through it 5 1/2 years ago because of blockage of 70% in my “widow maker” artery. A shoulder belt damaged my heart during an accident in 2006. My blockage is gone completely still. All my arteries are squeaky clean still.

  22. DS
    Reply

    I would like to hear more.

  23. CDR
    Reply

    You may also have hyper-parathyroidism. Have your doctor check your calcium level and PTH hormone. This disease leeches the bone calcium into your blood and deposits it in various parts of the body, including the heart and kidneys, therefore producing kidney stones, while thinning the bones.

  24. C.S.
    Reply

    I had a problem with calcium supplementation also. My sinuses calcified closed, I developed otosclerosis (calcification of the bones in the ear) which caused pain and loss of hearing. I had surgery for both conditions. After having a tissue analysis it showed that my calcium was off the chart. I quit the calcium supplementation and began an oral chelation therapy. Within one week of taking the oral chelation, my hearing, sense of taste and smell improved noticeably. It is my opinion that the medical establishment is doing a great disservice to recommend calcium supplementation.

  25. W.L.
    Reply

    Online, many commentators have written of this, and cited medical literature that seems to indicate that absence of sufficient vitamin K and minerals like potassium and magnesium is what contributes to the calcium going in the “wrong” place.

  26. GLP
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. I was just starting to take calcium supplements, because I am lactose intolerant, and avoid milk for the most part. (I do use lactaid-type products with success from time-to time). So, I will just up my intake on salmon, spinach, kale, and other green leafy veggies!

  27. D.B.
    Reply

    Is there information available on what source the calcium used in these studies was derived from? I remember a number of years ago when coral calcium was being advertised for how well it absorbs, my Dr. told me that there was a high % of death related to taking it. Are theses studies using calcium from coral or the more common source, oysters? Is there any studies on the safely of vegetable derived calcium?
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: There’s no indication from the studies of the type of calcium in the subjects’ supplements. The latest study is from Germany, where it is unlikely that coral calcium enjoyed the same enthusiasm as here. Even within these studies, there is evidence that calcium from the diet (from vegetables, nuts or soy, for example) is beneficial rather than harmful.

  28. CM
    Reply

    Has any study mentioned which form of calcium was taken, such as carbonate, citrate, etc? I understand that some forms are more readily absorbed than others.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: These studies did not publish those details. They may not even have inquired.

  29. Maria
    Reply

    I am unclear as to whether the dangers of supplementing with calcium also warrant concern for anyone using vitamin D supplements. The first reader indicated being on 1200 IUs of vitamin D, whereas the last reader indicated a history of supplementing with calcium. Should we be reducing both calcium and vitamin D supplementation?
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: That is not clear. What we can say from the studies is that vitamin D does not protect us against the negative effects of calcium supplementation, as some people had thought it might.

  30. Noah T.
    Reply

    The answer here backs every thing I have heard/read concerning dietary calcium. In fact the research suggest men to run somewhat low on calcium due to cardio-vascular concerns. To me this seems to indicates dietary supplementation has little to no effect on serum events. In fact can contribute to negative consequences. Same seems to apply to cholesterol

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