Calcium supplements linked to heart damage

Imbibing calcium in supplement form may be associated with an increased risk of plaque buildup in the arteries and heart damage, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

For the study, researchers examined 10 years of medical data on more than 2,700 participants in a federally funded heart disease study. Participants ranged in age from 45 to 84 and were 51 percent female. Dietary habits were determined by a 120-part questionnaire administered at the onset of the study. Additionally, researchers inventoried what drugs and supplements each person took on a daily basis. Cardiac scans were used to measure the levels of calcification — calcium buildup that can lead the accumulation of plaque — of the heart's arteries.

Ten years later, researchers repeated the scans. After adjusting the analysis for age, sex, race, exercise, smoking, income, education, weight, drinking, blood pressure, blood sugar and family medical history, researchers isolated individuals with the highest levels of calcium intake. While heart-healthy diets high in calcium were associated with a reduced risk for heart disease, participants taking the most supplementary calcium displayed a 22 percent increased likelihood of having high levels of calcium in their coronary arteries, which is a sign of developing heart disease.

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"Based on this evidence, we can tell our patients that there doesn't seem to be any harm in eating a heart-healthy diet that includes calcium-rich foods and it may even be beneficial for the heart," said Erin Michos, MD, associate director of preventive cardiology and associate professor of medicine at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. "But patients should really discuss any plan to take calcium supplements with their doctor to sort out a proper dosage or whether they even need them."

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