Are you staring at your bottle of calcium supplements with confusion?
If you answer yes, then you are among the 43 percent of Americans who take a supplement with added calcium and also heard a media report on the recent research out of Johns Hopkins.
The 2,742 study participants, aged 45-84, were part of a larger Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Study participants completed records on dietary habits and supplement use. They had a cardiac CT scan, which measures coronary artery calcium, a marker for heart disease risk.
At the beginning of the study, 43 percent of subjects showed some calcium deposits in coronary arteries. A second cardiac scan was repeated after 10 years to determine whether the calcium deposits progressed or new ones were created.
Participants were stratified into five levels of calcium intake from both food and supplements. The group with the highest level of calcium from food and supplements had a 27 percent reduced risk of heart disease when compared to the group with the lowest intake. When looking at just supplement use, the highest risk for heart disease was found among supplement users with the lowest intake of dietary calcium.
Calcium from food, no matter how high the intake, was not associated with increased risk of calcium plaque buildup. In fact, food is protective.
Here are the important points:
▪ Food should always be the primary source of nutrition. By definition, a supplement is there to enhance what might be missing.
▪ More is not necessarily better. Unless advised by a licensed healthcare professional, there is no reason to take above what is recommended for any vitamin or mineral. I only recommend supplements for my patients after I have done a very thorough nutritional history and diet analysis.
▪ Talk to your physician if you have concerns about calcium and heart disease risk.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.