Millions of people take calcium supplements conscientiously to reduce their risk of osteoporosis. Nearly everyone has assumed that supplemental calcium is safe, but a recent analysis in the BMJ has caused quite a stir. The investigators concluded that calcium pills (without vitamin D) can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. What’s the story on calcium?

In the future, your doctor might recommend an evening with friends just as she now suggests you get more exercise. Find out about the research on social support and health.

Explore the stories behind the health headlines.

Guests: Amy Lanou, PhD, is assistant professor of health and wellness for the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA). She is also senior nutrition scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. Her website is

The photo is of Dr. Lanou.

Bradley Layton is a graduate student in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His paper was published in PLoS Medicine.

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. Podcasts can be downloaded for free for six weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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  1. Colleen

    In my search of the Peoples Pharmacy website, I found no reference to Strontium, a supplement supposedly beneficial for bones, so I would be grateful for your evaluation of that (and WHICH form! If strontium ranelate were available in the U.S., would it be superior protection for bones than the citrate version??)

  2. L. Rhodes

    There was mention of a study that showed that when pregnant women take calcium supplements during pregnancy, it actually decreases bone density, and appears to interfere with the bodie’s adaptation to pregnancy and lactation.
    Veterinarians have known this for years. Dairy cows are prone to a condition called “milk fever” which is a sudden drop in blood calcium after calving (giving birth) that results in muscle paralysis. It is due to rapid mobilization of calcium from the blood into the milk. If cows are given calcium supplementation during pregnancy, it actually makes this condition worse. It is recommended that cows be given a LOW calcium diet in the last part of pregancy. This allows them to make the physiological adjustments necessary to absorb more calcium from their feed, and retain more calcium in their bodies, so that when they calve, they have plenty of calcium available for milk production.
    Calcium supplementation after pregancy is common, and then the cow can use the extra calcium to rebuild any bone loss experienced during pregnancy.
    It is amusing that the human medical establishment is just now discovering what veterinarians and dairymen/women have known for many years.

  3. jc

    I used to take calcium supplements to help me with leg, finger and toe cramps. They did help. After reading the news regarding calcium supplements and heart problems I asked a doctor friend about the cramping. He advised that I take vitamin B 1. It works!

  4. J. David Auner

    Dear Graedons,
    Non selective NSAIDS probably cause acceleration of arthritis damage and ultimately pain and disability when taken for weeks or months. See Univ. of Indiana research on cartilage damage. Cox 2 agent (formerly agents) doesn’t cause the same problem although clots were my main question since V 10 XX was introduced.
    Alternating Cox 2 or Tylenol with other NSAIDS makes sense. I take ASA when traveling, Ibuprofen when active, and Celebrex 10 days each month to avoid the prostaglandin accumulation problems for my disc disease and moderate osteoarthritis.
    Your caller mentioned colestid as a drug. Patients with high triglycerides have arthralgias which may resolve with getting TG less than 300. Then she gets into the price scams with fenofibrate (which probably is safer than gemfibrozil when combined with several other drugs).

  5. J. Helm, DVM

    I am a poultry veterinarian.
    Some info on salm and eggs.
    Salmonella contamination to chickens and other poultry can come from contaminated feed, rodents, insects, or infected chicks from infected breeder flocks. This can happen to commercial and the small backyard flocks — even those on pasture.
    States and egg companies in the US have used voluntary salmonella control programs to reduce the risk on SE contamination in eggs for 10-20 years. This includes receiving chicks from breeder source tested negative for SE, effective rodent/insect control programs, feed from salm control programs, and testing chicken houses for SE.
    FDA initiated a mandatory Egg Safety Action Plan on July 9, 2010 for the large egg farms which strengthened programs already in effect, and starting programs for those egg companies who hadn’t. Farm inspections were already planned for before this outbreak.
    This outbreak accounts for less than 1 percent of the Nations eggs.
    Consumers always need to follow food safe handling steps in the kitchen — handle meat and eggs properly, refrigerate and cook thoroughly.

  6. EG

    I have had very severe diarrhea after taking VitaminD3 4,000 mgs daily. Have you had any other people with this problem? Also my asthma which was very severe, has gotten much better. I am at a loss ??

  7. dp

    I believe in supplements, but not everyone can take them. Taking calcium (the cheapest, probably oyster shell) 18 years ago, caused painful lumps on my tendons. The worst were the ones on the Achilles. At first, a rheumatologist thought it was ankylosing spondilytis, but the blood work didn’t support that diagnosis and the lumps continued.
    Several months later I happened upon an article in a medical journal about a small number of individuals who developed large lumps on their tendons from taking calcium supplements….. I stopped the Calcium immediately and within 2 weeks the lumps had disappeared, never to return again. The article was an answer to a prayer. It never occurred to me that when taking something new I should monitor whether there are any resulting symptoms/side effects.

  8. Colleen G.

    There was a comment towards the end of the show about a supplement found in tea that helped with anxiety. I didn’t catch the name of that supplement, however. Would you please tell me what that was? Thank you.

  9. Martha

    Is there a relationship between bad teeth and osteoporosis?
    I had cavities on all of my back baby teeth. All of my remaining back teeth have either caps or several fillings. When I was in my mid thirties, a tooth broke while I was eating popcorn. A year or two ago one broke while I was eating raw carrot.
    Several others have also broken. I inherited my teeth from my mother who inherited hers from her mother.
    My grandmother developed a severe hunch back when she was in her seventies. My mother is almost 90 now and has a severe hunch back. I am 60 now and when I sit, I tend to slump forward or to either side. My back bothers me a lot. I always had fairly good posture. I used to walk around with a book on my head.
    I have always heard that milk (Calcium) helps build strong bones and teeth. I have always loved milk. When I was in my teens I drank at least 5 glasses a day. I still drink a gallon a week. Why do my teeth break and why does my back bother me?

  10. R L

    You say that the radio program is available for six weeks. But, I have been trying to access any area that has a play button, to no avail. How
    do you listen?
    The show has not yet aired. It will be live at 7:00 am on Aug 28th. It is hard to access a show that is not yet available. Please be patient.

  11. RES

    I really do not understand the current emphasis on water drinking——–we are supposed to drink at least two quarts of water a day.
    When I was a child, NO ONE EVER talked about how much water we should be drinking——-what happened to change all this talk about water, water, water?????

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