We've stopped taking supplemental Calcium

For some years now, as we've gotten older and my wife's bone density studies moved into the borderline arena (osteopenia but not frank osteoporosis), we've been taking calcium tablets. We settled on a mix of calcium citrate (supposedly better absorbed than calcium carbonate) and Vitamin D. I took two of the caplets in the morning and two in the evening, giving me 1,260 mg of calcium and 1000 IU of Vitamin D. She took two in the morning and three in the evening.

This week we stopped taking that supplement and I bought some dried figs instead.

What's going on here? Well, the British Medical Journal (29 July 2010) published a very well-done meta-analysis (a review of a number of medical research studies) of 12,000 patients over the age of forty who were given calcium supplements in randomized, placebo-controlled research studies. The study's goal was to look at the risk of heart attacks in patients given at least 500 mg of calcium per day. The article concluded there was an increased incidence of heart attacks, about 30% more than in the control subjects and therefore the management of osteoporosis through by the use of non-food calcium should be re-evaluated.

There are a number of caveats here. The supplements used didn't contain Vitamin D, which in the accompanying editorial, is said to possibly reduce fall risk and even help cardiovascular function. And the mechanism for the increase in heart attacks in unclear, so the finding may even prove to be "incidental."

Today I read my copy of the ACP Internist, a publication from the American College of Physicians (I'm a Fellow of the ACP, an association of academically inclined Internal Medicine doctors). They reviewed the BMJ article, noted that its results didn't extend to supplements that include Vitamin D. They also mentioned that the editorial noted that positive effects of taking calcium supplements, a supposed health benefit for those having osteoporosis or at risk for developing it, aren't proven anyway, so why take the risk.

I crossed of my Ca++s from the mini-calendar I keep to record meds taken and events upcoming. We'll wait for this controversy to resolve, if it does. In the meantime I noted that figs were the top non-dairy source of calcium in a list compiled by a physician posting on a CBS News website (the others were sardines with bones, soybeans, salmon with bones and sesame seeds). Four figs contain 506 mg of calcium (but about 130 calories).

The figs were relatively expensive, but hospital stays for heart attacks are certainly more so, in a number of ways. I may get some sardines when I go buy a lemon and thyme to make pea pod soup later today. I normally drink soy milk, but had an eight ounce glass of non-fat regular milk this morning. Some studies I've been reviewing would have us not consuming any dairy either, but for now I'll continue having small amounts of non-fat milk, along with our usual generous helpings of fruits and vegetables..

4 Responses to “We've stopped taking supplemental Calcium”

  1. I noticed this report and am interested that you two have stopped the calcium supplements for now. I was thinking of doing the same, even though I use calcium plus Vit. D. My bone density is excellent for my age, so the supplement is probably overkill...and I love sardines.

  2. Thanks for contributing so much with this great content.

  3. Peter Springberg says:

    We are still taking Vitamin D and making sure we get enough calcium via food.


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